Supervisors Triple Matching Rate For Public Campaign Funds

The legislation is the first major step up for the public financing system in nearly 20 years.

Candidates running for local office may receive more public funds for their campaign thanks to long-awaited legislation unanimously approved Tuesday that modernizes the city’s finance system.

San Francisco’s current public financing system, first approved by voters in 2000, for the most part gives candidates who participate $2 for every $1 individual contribution up to $500. Under Supervisor Gordon Mar’s proposal, it would triple to a 6-to-1 matching rate and lowers the individual contribution cap to $150, which incentives candidates to reach more voters no matter how much they can give. 

“Public financing of elections allows candidates to compete in campaigns increasingly flooded with private funds from SuperPACs, it amplifies the voice of our constituents, and it provides greater regulation and accountability for those who seek office,” Mar said. “With our democratic norms under assault in 2019, it’s never been more important to do the work to strengthen our democracy.”

The boosted matching rate also means non-incumbents can receive up to $255,000 total if they’re running for a supervisor seat, instead of the current $155,000, and $1.2 million if they’re a mayoral candidate, instead of the current $975,000. 

Groups like the Brennan Center for Justice, ACLU Northern California, Common Cause, Fair Vote California, and the Campaign Legal Center are in support of the bill. Another supporter is local election advocate Jon Golinger, who says voters may notice candidates doing more outreach instead of fundraising as a result. 

“It gives candidates a reason to reach out to a broader circle of people not just for votes,” said Golinger, who teaches election law at Golden Gate University. “It’s the first significant strengthening of the public financing ordinance since its creation in 2000.”

The legislation is the most notable update to election reform in recent years, but not the only one. Working with the San Francisco Ethics Commission, Mar also brought forward legislation approved in April that extended the public financing deadline and update the commission’s procedures. Voters will also vote on Proposition F, which would require disclosure of the top three donors on ads paid by independent groups like SuperPACs.

Supervisors unanimously approved the legislation, which could kick in for 2020 elections if signed by Mayor London Breed.

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