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Democracy Dollars Update

Updated: Mar 3









VOTERS ADOPT NEW LAWS –

BUT THE BUDGET SETS THE PACE OF IMPLEMENTATION


By Gail Wallace, President/Action Committee Chair


November 2022:  Passage of the Fair Elections Act:

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. 


June 2023: Budget allocation for partial 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.* 


Some reforms established in the FEA will be implemented in all future elections. These include 1) lowering contribution limits to reduce candidates’ reliance on wealthier donors or special interests, 2)  extending the time officials must wait after completing a term of elected office before registering as a lobbyist, and 3) enforcing stronger rules on transparency for political ads from candidates and independent expenditure groups.


It is implementation of the voucher program known as Democracy Dollars that will be delayed until 2026. The June 2023 budget ultimately included two elements to fund initial preparations for a rollout of vouchers in 2026:


  • approximately $525,000 and

  • a full time staff person. 


2023 PEC obtains grant funding for one full time position


The PEC sought and obtained $210,000 in private grant funding for one full time person to begin planning and full and equitable rollout of the Democracy Dollars voucher program.


June 2024 Requests for additional funding as part of mid-cycle budget:


The future of the Democracy Dollars component of the FEA is not assured given the forecasts of ongoing budget challenges in Oakland. 


Mid-cycle budget adjustments in June 2024 are critical for keeping implementation on track for the 2026 elections. The Public Ethics Commission has submitted a request for an additional staff person as part of the budget adjustments. In part, that request states: :


Currently, the PEC has just one budgeted staffer to launch this administratively complex Program, out of the four required under Measure W (2022). The PEC will need additional senior staff to roll-out the policies, procedures, and core infrastructure of the Program well before March 2026, when vouchers will be mailed out. However, this will not be possible if these positions are not funded until July 2025 (the start of the next two-year budget cycle) and if they take several months to fill. The PEC needs at least one budgeted Ethics Analyst II beginning no later than January 2025 to ensure that person is on boarded at least six months to one year before vouchers are issued…


Conclusion:


The Bay Area Political Equality Collaborative** will continue to advocate for full funding of the Democracy Dollars program. 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.




(Last updated March 2024.) _____________________________________________________________________

*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.

**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 others..


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