After meeting only once in three months due to staff shortages, members of the Democracy Fund — the city’s public campaign financing system — met with Mayor Toni Harp last week to discuss new hires.
The fund’s board currently has an administrator and four acting members, the minimum number needed to achieve a quorum and conduct business. The Board can accommodate up to four new members. Members are hired in a two-step process in which the mayor first nominates candidates for consideration and the Board of Alders approves the hires through a majority vote. At last week’s meeting with Harp, Democracy Fund Chair Jared Milfred ’16 and Administrator Alyson Heimer spoke with the mayor about hiring goals for the year as well as about expanding the Fund’s reach.
“[Harp] understood the Board’s situation and expressed that she would be sure the Democracy Fund receives new nominees shortly,” Milfred said. “Its the mayor’s prerogative — as an elected official, accountable to the people of New Haven — to select which candidates go forward for nomination.”
With only four members, if one member is absent, the Board cannot meet officially, leading to long hiatuses between board meetings. Since its conception in early 2013, the Board has not filled more than six out of eight positions.
Heimer said Harp has received one application thus far for a Board position. Harp has approved this candidate and submitted their name to the Board of Alders, Heimer said. The applicant’s name will be revealed and they will be approved or rejected at this month’s Board of Alders’ meeting, on Feb. 17.
“The mayor indicated that she wanted to learn more about how the fund works in New Haven,” Heimer said. “She has been very supportive.”
The Democracy Fund provides grants and matching funds to mayoral candidates who neither accept individual private donations exceeding $370 nor approach political action committees for campaign funding.
Although Harp did not use the Democracy Fund during her 2013 bid for mayor, she was a champion of clean elections legislation during her tenure as a state senator, according to City Hall spokesperson Laurence Grotheer.
Harp has not yet revealed whether or not she will utilize the fund if she runs for re-election in 2015. Heimer said she does not expect the mayor to approach the fund with her decision until early April.
In addition to discussing new hires, Heimer and Milfred also spoke to the mayor about the possibility of expanding the Fund to non-mayoral citywide elections, specifically the aldermanic, city clerk, voter registrar and probate judge elections.
According to Heimer, Harp responded positively to the idea, but she asked to see detailed financial data that would assess the impact of a fund expansion on the city budget.
Heimer added that the fund would work to prepare such a report. She also said that the Democracy Fund Board has sent a questionnaire to alders to gauge their views on a possible extension. The fund is awaiting responses from the alders.
“Any program that encourages participation in the electoral process, and any program that makes it easier for eligible residents to consider running for public office is consistent with the mayor’s approach to public service,” Grotheer said.
Heimer added that, during her meeting with the mayor, she had confirmed that the fund would not be asking for any additional city funding for the 2015–16 fiscal year. The Fund’s budget for this fiscal year is $342,581.