Cambridge City Council votes to reject study of campaign finance reform

The city council voted on February 20 to reject a motion requesting that the City Manager work with campaign finance reform advocates to examine the potential for establishing a system of publicly financed municipal elections in Cambridge.

The motion was based on a policy order that was introduced last year by Councillors Nadeem Mazen and Dennis Carlone. Their original order was referred to the Government Operations, Rules, and Claims committee, which met earlier this year to hear testimony from campaign finance reform advocates (including Ron Fein, Legal Director for Free Speech for People, and local members of Represent.Us). The committee report from this hearing was placed on file.

Ultimately, three councillors voted in favor of having the City do a study of public financing (including Councillor Carlone), but four councillors opposed the motion, with one voting "present" and one absent. An account of this 3-4-1-1 vote is featured on the front page of this week's Cambridge Chronicle, see: "Cambridge City Council rejects study of public campaign funding."

This evening, the council entertained a motion by Councillor Mazen to reconsider the February 20 vote. However, the motion for reconsideration failed, with Councillors Carlone and Mazen being the only members to support continued debate on the matter.

The full text of the original policy order is posted below...

City Council Office
 Policy Order Resolution  
  May 19, 2014


WHEREAS: Since 1996, states and municipalities have begun implementing full public financing of elections, as part of a "Clean Election" movement, in an attempt to curb the undue influence of special interests in politics; and
WHEREAS: Public financing will encourage candidates who lack substantial resources, effectively lowering the barrier for entry, increasing the ideological and socio-economic diversity, and expanding the range of policy positions put before the electorate; and 
WHEREAS: Public grants can make elections more competitive by reducing the fundraising advantages that, in particular, incumbents have over challengers-increasing candidate diversity and encouraging shorter terms; and
WHEREAS: Public funding can reduce the influence of private contributions on both candidates and officeholders by replacing individual, labor, and committee contributions with public funds not tied to any particular interest; and
WHEREAS: Public financing programs have been shown to reduce the overall cost of elections, preventing the further escalation of campaign spending; and 
WHEREAS: Despite the up-front cost, public funding ultimately saves tax payers' money by reducing wasteful government spending that can result from the influence of campaign donors; and 
WHEREAS: In 1998 Massachusetts voters approved by a margin of 2-1, The Clean Elections Law which provided public financing of statewide elections with 77% of Cambridge residents voting in favor of the initiative; and 
WHEREAS: In 2002, The Clean Elections Law was effectively repealed, through an amendment to the state's budget which eliminated funding for this popular initiative; and 
WHEREAS: Municipalities such as Santa Fe, NM, New York, NY, and Albuquerque, NM have all implemented successful public financing programs; and 
WHEREAS: Publically funded municipal elections can set a powerful precedent as one step towards nationwide campaign finance reform; now therefore be it 


That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to confer with the Law Department, the Election Commission, and the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance to determine the feasibility of publically funded elections for Cambridge, taking into account models for implementation from other municipalities as well as the exploration of new publically funded models; and be it further  


That the City Manager be and hereby is requested to report back to the City Council on this matter; and be it further
ORDERED: That this matter be referred to the Government Operations, Rules and Claims Committee.    

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