Elicker first to qualify for public finance

Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 is officially the first mayoral candidate eligible for public financing through New Haven’s Democracy Fund.

In a Thursday morning press release, Elicker’s campaign treasurer Melanie Quigley said that the campaign had reached the 200 contributions necessary to qualify for public financing on Wednesday night, making him eligible for a $19,000 grant and matching funds of up to $125,000 through the Fund. But the Democracy Fund does not yet have enough members to approve the funding formally, so Elicker will have to wait before receiving the money.

As of Thursday morning, Elicker had received 235 contributions totaling $15,285, and the Democracy Fund will supplement those contributions resulting in a total of $43,685.

Two years ago, when Jeffrey Kerekes ran against Mayor John DeStefano Jr., Kerekes raised $43,000 through the public financing system. DeStefano, who opted out of the system but helped create the program originally, raised roughly $700,000.

Elicker told the News that Kerekes’ performance in the 2011 election, in which DeStefano won by his narrowest margin ever at 55–45, “showed that you don’t need a ton of money and you do not need a lot of additional connections with the business community or big ticket donors to run a viable campaign.”

Community activist David Streever said he thinks Elicker’s ability to raise this money in such a short period of time is a sign of his ability to generate enthusiasm among constituents, as demonstrated by the crowd of over 100 that packed into Manjares on Whalley Avenue last Thursday at his announcement of his mayoral candidacy.

This November’s election may see all of its candidates make use of the public finance option, as two candidates who have said they are running — Elicker and Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield — have committed to using the option.

Holder-Winfield, who has said that he will officially file his papers to run for mayor today, told the News that public finance enables “average people” to enter politics and prevents political races from being among only “people with money.” He said that he thinks DeStefano chose to opt out of the system because he thought doing so would allow him to raise significantly more money.

But Anna Mariotti, City Hall’s spokeswoman, said that DeStefano opted out of the system due to the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission decision, a Supreme Court case that “allowed organizations to contribute unlimited money,” combined with his sentiment that the Fund’s rules were “complicated and inconsistent.”

The Democracy Fund currently does not have enough members to give Elicker the $19,000 grant and the money matching his current donations.

Ken Krayeske, the administrator of the Democracy Fund, said that the Fund has had difficulty maintaining a quorum because service is voluntary and because Mariotti left the Democracy Fund to assume her current position. Her departure left the seven-person commission with only three people, which is one shy of the four necessary for quorum.

The Board of Aldermen’s Aldermanic Affairs Committee heard the nomination of attorney John DiManno on Monday, and the full Board of Aldermen will vote on his nomination. Krayeske said that if the board approves DiManno’s nomination, he will likely call a meeting of the Democracy Fund later that week to go ahead with the process of approving the grant and matching of funds for Elicker.

Interviewed officials and Krayeske said that the Democracy Fund could be improved in a number of ways, with Krayeske saying he could list off “at least a dozen” potential improvements.

Elicker said that the bureaucracy of the Fund sometimes made it difficult for him to navigate and serves as a deterrent for other candidates. In particular, he cited as an obstacle the rule that candidates have to spend all the funds they obtain during their exploring phase before they ultimately declare their candidacy.

DeStefano’s decision not to use the fund two years ago also casts doubt over its true efficacy, as he outspent Kerekes by a 14–1 margin.

“I think [the Democracy Fund] is definitely a good idea and it has the potential to help change politics in New Haven,” Streever said. “But unless people demand that our representatives actually use it, it will definitely fall short.”

Holder-Winfield said that the Democracy Fund may be able to avoid these problems in the future by increasing the amount that the Fund gives to candidates, though Elicker and Streever expressed doubts that New Haven politics needs more money in its politics than the Democracy Fund can offer.

The Democracy Fund was launched in 2003.

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