While supporters of the creation of a public financing system for mayoral elections in New Haven are confident that such a measure will pass in the Board of Aldermen, the system may face several obstacles before it is implemented.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who supports a measure to create the system, said legislation creating the so-called New Haven Democracy Fund has a “100 percent” chance of passing the Board of Aldermen. But, even if the system gains support on the local level, proponents will likely need to change Connecticut state law for the system to be legal.
The proposed system, which would cost the city about $100,000 a year, would provide block grants of $15,000 to any mayoral candidates who receive at least 200 contributions of $25 or more. In addition, it would provide a 2-to-1 match for the first $25 of all contributions to candidates who participate in the system.
A measure that would allow municipalities to create public financing systems passed in the state Senate earlier this year but stalled in the state House of Representatives. DeStefano said that while the public financing proposal would only apply to New Haven, some state legislators oppose the changes.
“Some think it will eventually apply to the state, and they want to prevent that,” DeStefano said. “Some don’t want to [pass the legislation] because there is too much else to do, and they don’t want to get involved.”
Executive Assistant to the Mayor Julio Gonzalez ’99, who helped craft the proposal, said the system was based primarily on similar programs in New York and Los Angeles. But, he said, the proposal for New Haven was different because it provides the greatest benefits to candidates who have many small donors, since a $30 donation triggers the same $50 subsidy from the city as a $300 donation.
Richter Elser ’81, chair of the New Haven Republican Town Committee, said he found it “amusing” that the mayor — who raised over $300,000 for his re-election campaign this year despite cruising to a sixth term — is one of the prime advocates of a public financing system.
“Considering that both the mayor and [political action committees] that are affiliated with the mayor are — largely behind funding the Democratic machine, it seems interesting that these are the people who advocate public financing,” Elser said.
State Senator Andrew Roraback ’83, who voted against the bill in committee, said the system would divert resources from more pressing needs like health care and public safety. He also said Connecticut would be indirectly subsidizing the system since New Haven receives so much of its budget from the state.
“I don’t want to hear Mayor DeStefano complaining about inadequate support from the state when the town is devoting its resources to bumper stickers and lawn signs,” Roraback, a Republican from Goshen, said.
But Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, who co-sponsored the bill that would have allowed municipalities to establish public financing systems, said he was hopeful that a similar bill would pass next session. He said much of the opposition to the measure comes from Republicans, who have a minority in both houses of the General Assembly.
“There were many people [in Hartford] who were philosophically opposed to public financing,” Looney, a Democrat who represents New Haven, said. “[But] public financing, where it exists, has been very successful.”
In addition to New York and Los Angeles, public financing systems have already been established in several major cities, including Tucson, Boulder and Oakland.