The Democracy Fund, New Haven’s public campaign financing program, took a step last night toward extending its services to races for the Board of Alders.
The fund’s board met Wednesday night, after last week’s meeting was postponed when the absence of secretary William Wynn prevented the board from achieving a quorum. The fund, which was established in 2006, aims to support clean elections by offering grants and matching funds to candidates who do not accept donations from PACs or corporations and do not accept private donations exceeding $370. At yesterday’s meeting, the board discussed extending the fund to include more local elections — namely races for alder, city clerk, voter registrar and probate judge — in addition to mayoral and state-level races, including state senators and representatives.
“We’re trying to get an understanding of under what circumstances the Board of Alders would allow an expansion of the fund,” Fund Administrator Alyson Heimer said.
Heimer prepared a questionnaire, which was up for discussion at the meeting, for the Board of Alders to gauge their interest in using the fund. After a brief review, the fund’s board members unanimously approved the questionnaire and moved to send it to the alders.
As administrator, Heimer must file a request regarding the expansion to present to the alders by the end of the month. The Democracy Fund board entered into an executive session, separate from the review, last night and discussed the potential format of such a presentation behind closed doors.
At last week’s informal meeting, members of the fund’s board agreed that the Board of Alders would likely have questions about the impact on the city budget if the proposal to extend the Democracy Fund to Board of Alders races were to pass.
Yesterday, Democracy Fund Chair Jared Milfred ’16 suggested that a report he prepared last year, which includes an analysis of the costs of aldermanic races, could be utilized to supplement the fund’s presentation to ease any concerns about the increased costs of an expansion. In the report, Milfred found that the average amount spent on an aldermanic race was $3,367 — less than 1 percent of the Democracy Fund’s current operating budget of $342,581 for the 2015–16 fiscal year. There are 30 members of the Board of Alders.
Heimer will meet with Mayor Toni Harp today to discuss the fund’s place in the 2015 budget. She said she does not foresee requesting any additional funding from the Board of Alders.
Meetings between the fund’s board and the Board of Alders will also help determine whether the Democracy Fund will extend only grants, only matching funds or both services to Board of Alders candidates, Milfred said. While grants are direct donations to campaigns, through matching funds, the Democracy Fund matches private donations from $10 to $25 on a 2:1 basis.
At the meeting last night, Heimer also proposed that the fund update its grant and matching fund amounts to reflect changes in the Consumer Price Index. Although the fund’s by-laws call for a re-evaluation of these amounts every four years, some figures have not been updated since 2008.
In 2012, the Democracy Fund increased both the maximum amount that a candidate may spend on their campaign and the maximum grant a candidate may receive from $15,000 to $19,000. The maximum personal donation that a candidate may accept was also increased from $300 to $370. However, the matching fund cap has not yet been increased.
Currently, the matching fund cap is set at $25. But this value should be increased to $30, according to Heimer, to reflect cost-of-living adjustments.
“I propose that we take this issue up at the next meeting,” Democracy Fund Co-Chair Gerald Martin said. “I don’t want to leave the next meeting without having reached a decision on this.”