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Democracy Dollars Update

VOTERS ADOPT NEW LAWS –

BUT THE BUDGET SETS THE PACE OF IMPLEMENTATION


By Gail Wallace, President/Action Committee Chair


In November 2022, 74% of Oakland voters supported Measure W, also known as the Oakland Fair Elections Act (FEA), which established, among other reforms, the nation’s second-ever Democracy Dollars program for funding candidates in local elections. However, success at the ballot box is just the first step toward implementation. Given Oakland’s historic budget deficit, neither the Mayor nor the City Council identified sufficient resources to fully launch the FEA in the 2024 elections.*


Nonetheless, the Mayor’s proposed budget included approximately $525,000 to begin preparations for full implementation in 2026. The Public Ethics Commission (PEC), which will administer the FEA, and LWVO alongside other members of the Bay Area Political Equality Collective, which had helped bring FEA to the ballot, advocated strongly for two additional elements: 1) a full time staff person at the PEC to leverage money allocated by the Mayor in preparation for 2026; and 2) discretionary funds of approximately $150,000, which the PEC can use to support candidates in 2024 with resources and training.


The City Council’s budget team, particularly Council Members Nikki Bas and Carroll Fife, worked successfully with LWVO, our fellow advocates and members of the PEC and its staff to identify funding for the two additional elements. With these investments added to the Mayor’s budget proposal, the PEC should have adequate resources to support the components of the FEA that will be implemented in all future elections as well as to prepare for adding the Democracy Dollars component in the 2026 election cycle. The reforms that will be implemented in all future elections include lowering contribution limits to reduce candidates’ reliance on wealthier donors or special interests, extending the time officials must wait after completing a term of elected office before registering as a lobbyist, and enforcing stronger rules on transparency for political ads from candidates and independent expenditure groups.


Although advocates and voters would have preferred full implementation that included Democracy Dollars in 2024, or at least a pilot project in selected 2024 races, the 2023-25 budget is evidence that City officials, the PEC and advocates are being strategic with constrained resources and keeping faith with voters who overwhelmingly passed Measure W.


The future of the Democracy Dollars component of the FEA is not assured given the forecasts of ongoing budget challenges in Oakland. The Bay Area Political Equality Collaborative will continue to advocate for full funding of the Democracy Dollars program to ensure fair elections in Oakland. When fully implemented, the program will provide all eligible Oaklanders with four $25 Democracy Dollars vouchers that they can donate to the qualifying local candidates of their choice. The goals are to enable even candidates without connections to wealthy donors or outside interests to mount viable campaigns that are responsive to the concerns of their future constituents, to create the incentive for candidates to spend more time talking to members of their community, and to increase citizen engagement in elections.


The Bay Area Political Equality Collaborative includes the ACLU of Northern California, California Common Cause, League of Women Voters Oakland, Oakland Rising, BayRising, Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus, Maplight, and more.

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  • Legislation often includes clauses which permit Oakland to declare a fiscal emergency and postpone expenditures otherwise required by legislation. The City Council made that declaration in the recent budget cycle with respect to the full FEA funding and other expenditures the City would otherwise be required to make.

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