Democracy Fund presents plan to aldermen

The Democracy Fund, a New Haven public campaign finance program, is seeking increased funding for the upcoming mayoral elections.
The Democracy Fund, a New Haven public campaign finance program, is seeking increased funding for the upcoming mayoral elections. Photo by Diana Li.

Nearing a fall mayoral election in which at least two candidates plan to use public financing, the Democracy Fund requested additional money from the city in a Monday night Board of Aldermen meeting.

Both leading candidates, Ward 10 Alderman Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 and Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, have promised to use the public financing program, managed by the Democracy Fund, to run their campaigns. On Monday, Ken Krayeske, the Democracy Fund administrator, explained the program to the Board of Alderman and requested city funding to boost its current $270,000 balance, as he believes this November’s mayoral race will see heavy use of the Democracy Fund’s resources.

“I assume that with an open seat, we’re going to see more candidates,” Krayeske said. “My hope is that this year, the Democracy Fund really demonstrates not just to the city of New Haven but to the rest of the state of Connecticut how effective campaign municipal reform can be in highlighting the issues that are important to people.”

According to the ordinance of the Democracy Fund, after a candidate collects 200 donations from registered New Haven voters of under $370 per person, the Fund will match the first $25 of each donation 2-to-1, which means a $10 donation becomes $30 and a $100 donation becomes $150 (since the Fund will match the first $25 twice, adding $50 in this case). Candidates can collect up to $125,000 from matching funds.

On top of the matching funds, candidates facing an opponent who has raised at least $5,500 will also receive a $19,000 grant once they have reached the requisite number of donations to qualify for public financing.

Krayeske explained that New Haven offers the only public campaign financing system that is a combination of matching funds and grants, as the 15 other cities in the United States that have public campaign financing for municipal elections use either grants or matching funds exclusively.

The Democracy Fund’s founding rules call for seven board members, but currently only four seats are occupied. After City Hall spokeswoman Anna Mariotti left the board to serve in her current position, the board was down to three members. Attorney John DiManno joined the group in February to bring its membership to four.

The four members — board secretary Tiana Ocasio, DiManno, Tyrone McClain and Patricia Kane — were present at Monday’s meeting. To reach quorum, each member must be present at meetings.

“It’s difficult for us to get a quorum with only four members, because all four of those board members are very busy: two are attorneys, someone who works for the mayor of Bridgeport and someone who’s really active in unions and state politics,” Krayeske said.

Ward 9 Alderman Jessica Holmes asked why the Democracy Fund had never hired an investigator to make sure the funds were being used appropriately. Ocasio explained that the Fund’s board had never voted for or found enough evidence to merit hiring an investigator.

Ward 22 Alderman Jeanette Morrison also expressed concern that candidates can simply opt out of the public finance system and spend their own money if they have more than what the Fund can offer.

“Say [Alderman] Brenda [Foskey-Cyrus] ran and she participated in the Democracy Fund and she got that $19,000, but I have $1 million personally to just spend. She’s not going to have a chance in this race,” Morrison said. “It really does become survival of the fittest.”

However, Krayeske responded by explaining that although participating in the Fund is completely voluntary, he felt that some people saw Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s decision to opt out of the Fund in the 2011 election as a “political liability.” Two years ago, when Jeffrey Kerekes ran against DeStefano, 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.

The Board of Aldermen unanimously passed the ordinance establishing the Democracy Fund in June 2006, which was later signed by DeStefano.

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