Daniel Zhao, Senior Photographer

Two of the four potential candidates for mayor of New Haven have publicly committed to participating in the city’s Democracy Fund — a 2007 initiative designed to get big donors out of city politics. 

While incumbent Mayor Justin Elicker and Hartford Inspector General Liam Brennan have announced that they plan on participating in the Democracy Fund, Tom Goldenberg has,  as of now, decided not to participate — although he said he may join at a later date. Shafiq Abdussabadur is currently in talks  with the Democracy Fund to discuss his possible participation. 

“The program exists to show people that New Haven’s mayor can’t be bought,” New Haven Democracy Fund administrator Alyson Heimer told the News. “Putting these limitations on fundraising changes the conversation away from conversations about money, and makes it so that people who are running for office spend more time talking to people who might be less likely to donate.”

Participants in the program cannot accept donations higher than $440 from individuals or town committees. Candidates are also not allowed to accept any money from Political Action Committees or corporations. 

To qualify, candidates must raise 200 distinct donations from registered New Haven voters ranging from $10 to $440. 

For every contribution made under $30, the Democracy Fund doubles the contribution, while donations ranging from $30 to $440 receive a flat $60 matching grant from the fund. The fund will provide matching grants of up to $125,000 — a threshold that has never been exceeded since its founding in 2007. 

“Candidates have an incentive to get small donations because they get amplified and doubled,” Heimer told the News. “So this changes who people are willing to talk to and it changes the power of every contributor to make a meaningful impact on the mayor’s race. Candidates are no longer shopping for $1,000 contributors. They’re shopping for local New Haven residents who are registered to vote in order to win over those hearts.”

Candidates are also limited in their overall campaign spending if they participate in the Fund. Participating campaigns cannot spend more than $445,000 in the primary and cannot spend over $445,000 in a general election if they advance past the primary. Candidates also receive a $23,000 base-level grant to run their campaign. 

Elicker has spoken extensively about the benefits of Democracy Fund, and has used it for all four of his mayoral campaigns. According to Elicker, the Democracy Fund helps make clear to the public that he is only interested in serving New Haveners and is not beholden to PACs or corporate interests. 

“I’m firmly committed to the goal of getting big money out of politics,” Elicker told the News. “Programs like the Democracy Fund help reduce the influence of well-healed donors who seek to buy influence and access and, instead, empower the grass-roots. Just as I have in every previous election, I’m participating in the Democracy Fund.” 

Elicker has raised roughly $54,000 in about a month of campaigning, with New Haveners making up 233 of his 340 total donors. With the matching provisions of the Democracy Fund, Elicker’s total fundraising haul for December is roughly $90,000. 

Brennan, who has formed an exploratory committee but has yet to formally declare his candidacy, told the News that he will participate in the Democracy Fund if he declares his candidacy. 

Exploratory committees have a lower bar of reporting contributions and support. Despite this lack of oversight, Brennan stated his commitment to abiding by the parameters of the Democracy Fund.

Abdussabur is currently “in conversation with” the Democracy Fund and will confirm or deny his participation in the program later this week. 

Goldenberg has said that he does not currently have plans to participate, and has already raised $18,000 from 110 donors on top of a $25,000 self donation. Goldenberg did not disclose the proportion of New Haveners to the News.

“Our campaign has examined our options. And we have determined that participating in the Fund at this time would put us at a disadvantage, so we have chosen not to participate and to free up taxpayer dollars from our campaign,” Goldenberg told the News. 

Democracy Fund was founded as part of a State Elections Enforcement Commission pilot program in 2007. 

Correction 1/26: A previous version of this article misstated the range of donations as from $10 to $390. This figure has been updated for inflation, and the upper limit is now $440.

Yash Roy covered City Hall and State Politics for the News. He also served as a Production & Design editor, and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion chair for the News. Originally from Princeton, New Jersey, he is a '25 in Timothy Dwight College majoring in Global Affairs.