The Truth About Voter Owned Elections and why Penny Rich is Participating

It is important to recognize that the goal of Voter Owned Elections is not simply to reign in campaign spending but to put government back into the hands of the public.  Voter Owned Elections help to ensure that politicians are accountable to the voters and not to well-funded special interest groups that donate large sums to campaigns.  Public campaign financing also ensures that marginalized groups, such as women, minorities and low-income citizens who may not have access to special interest funding or the ability to loan themselves large sums of money still have an opportunity to participate in the electoral process.

Opponents of Voter Owned Elections point out that fundraising comes with the territory of running for office and that some are uncomfortable with their tax dollars paying for the campaigns of candidates they do not support.    Campaign reform involves questioning such assumptions.  Public financing greatly reduces the amount of time candidates spend raising money, allowing them more time for serving the public through direct voter interaction.  For candidates who are not independently wealthy or cannot afford to quit their day job in order to campaign, this can make running for office an option, and will serve to diversify the pool of candidates.  As for the cost, Voter Owned Elections is expected to cost each Chapel Hill resident $1.88 during its first four years, which covers two elections.  The 2009 elections will cost each taxpayer $0.94.

As a final note, the citizens of Chapel Hill should remember that Voter Owned Elections was approved overwhelmingly by the Town Council, and is supported by over 30 state-wide organizations such as the League of Women Voters, the AARP, the NC Association of Educators, and the NC Council of Churches.  Over a dozen cities and counties across the country have instituted public campaign financing and report overwhelmingly positive results.



I think it's great that Penny is pursuing to VOE option. It will be interesting to see what others make that choice. It will also be interesting to see which candidates choose to take funding from special interest groups rather than pursuing the VOE option.

I don't think it is VOE vs. the "evil" option! VOE is "special interest" money from a special and endangered group called tax payers!  Note that all voters are not tax payers.Interesting that the CHTC members who voted for it and are running this year are NOT participating.  Any thoughts on why?We need a better grasp on "special interest" money since we don't define it very well.  I have yet to see any reports on how "special interest" money has been so influential in our local elections.  I know, Sally said she was given a bundle of "special interest" checks and she gave them back.  Isn't it great when we have principled candidates who can make the system work without more rules! If 50 people from neighborhood groups give to a candidate, is that "special interest" money ?

Here is a segment from an e-mail I got from the Orange County
Democratic Party regarding a public forum on Voter Own Elections I attened a couple of weeks ago. 

Forum on Voter Owned Elections at Chapel Hill Town Hall Tonight
Chapel Hill Town Hall, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Chapel Hill, NC
The Orange County Democratic Party is hosting an information forum
on Chapel Hill's new system of Voter Owned Elections. The party invites
all residents to learn how potential candidates for public office can
use this publicly financed system to help finance the costs of running
for office. Introductory remarks will be made by Gene Nichol, former
Dean of the UNC Law School. There will be additional presentations by
Common Cause, Democracy North Carolina and a panel discussion.
The forum will be held Tuesday evening, June 23rd, at the Chapel
Hill Town Council Chambers at 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., and
will begin at 7pm. This event will last about an hour.
The Town of Carrboro has asked the State Legislature for the right
to have Voter Owned Elections in their town, and Carrboro residents are
encouraged to attend as well to learn how this system works.
This year's Chapel Hill election is not merely a local issue
-- it is important state-wide. The bill that would have extended public
financing was put on hold in the Senate because they wanted to see how
the Chapel Hill election goes.
Please come to learn more about this essential issue.

 I think it is kind of cool that we could be setting the stage for statewide campaign finance reform.   Here are a few relevant sites they mentioned at that public forum if anyone wants to read up more on VOE: 

I can't figure out how it can be effective if it's not required for all candidates.

if your opponent is outspending you by a certain amount to keep you competitive.  But the whole money = speech thing keeps it from being mandatory participation.

that what happens in CH means much for statewide elections since the role of money is so different because the costs and types of campaigns are so different.I support this for judges because they let me make my own personal choice. Spending is political speech until they say it isn't.Remember too that there was the claim that this program who attract new candidates; unless something changes by noon tomorrow, we failed that test!  Most must admit its not really about money to win; it's really about time to serve! We operate here on the level of personality, don't we?So to Marks question, why isn't everybody taking our money?

I don't think we can say whether or not it has passed or failed until Nov when we see if either our Mayor or one of our Town Council Members is voter owned.

that you understand that I was only talking about that one aspect of the program encouraging new candidates to run for office.  We will know that outcome for sure tomorrow at noon, not November.Should participation by those who voted for it be another evaluation criteria?This is a multi-part test, yes?

and agree there are definitely several testing points throughout this semester of elections. Hopefully the very act of having a voted owned candidate win though will help bring the attention to the program needed to inspire new candidates interest.  Someone who has never run for office before might be hesitant until they see this program actually resulting in someone getting elected.  I think if we end up with a Voter Owned Mayor & Town Council Member we will  have more interest next time around, and that is why I see that as the final exam that carries the most weight, but you are right there are other tests & quizes that will be encountered along the way.

Fred, you asked why the CH council members running for re-election are not participating, even those who supported it.  When I ran for re-election in 1995, admittedly back in the stone ages (gasp, then I didn't even have a website), I would not have signed onto VOE, to increase my flexibility.  I was very easily able to raise 9,100 dollars in lots of little contributions, none over $100.  The contributions came from a wide variety of sources, and since none was large, I certainly wasn't beholden to any special interest due to campaign contributions.  Any incumbent who has done a good job would likely not particpate.  I think that VOE primarily will help the newcomers.I would speculate that this year's CH mayor's race will be all about setting spending records.  Anyone want to take bets on Matt C's personal spending?  Will it win for him? 

that it's his right to spend what he wants--- but note, that means a VOE candidate will gets "rescue funds" if he hits the peg point.  I believe this is contrary to the Davis v. FEC Supreme Court decision.  Other jurisdictions are already examining their programs to deal with this.

For those not familiar with the case: In June 2008 the Supreme Court struck down the "Millionaires' Amendment" as unconstiutional in a 5-4 vote (opinion by Alito).  The "Millionaires' Amendment" was part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 that raised the limits on contributions to congressional candidates if their opponent spent above $350,000 of personal funds on his or her campaign.  Since that decisions, opponents of Voter Owned Elections have used the case to question the validity of public financing.  Here is why I think they are wrong.  The Court in Davis did not review the issue of voter owned elections because they had ruled on it previously. In Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court directly reviewed the issue of public financing and found it to be constitutional.  They found that public funding serves a compelling state interest and reduces corruption (or the appearance of corruption).  In fact, the Davis court cited that case, saying:"In Buckley, we held that Congress may engage in public financing of election campaigns and may condition acceptance of public funds on an agreement by the candidate to abide by specified expenditure limitations even though we found an independent limit on overall campaign expenditures to be unconstitutional."If the Supreme Court wanted to overturn Buckley with Davis, or had they wanted to address the constitutionality of rescue funds, they certainly could have.  Not only did they not overrule it, they specifically addressed the issue and upheld its constitutionality.   


to say that the case did not address the validity of public financing but it does call in to question the "rescue funding" provision of several VOE ordinances.  "Punishing" candidates who spend too much the court said is a clear violation of the First Amendment's protection of political speech.If there was nothing to it, I doubt that other jurisdictions like New Jersey and Arizona would be investing time and money to see what the impact might be on their ordinances.Maybe this is why North Carolina slowed things down. Don't you just love 5-4 votes!

I bet some of that billions & billions of bail-out money that we taxpayers were forced to give to AIG, Goldman, Sachs, etc. ends up funding some campaigns. They helped trash our economy, they get more "political free-speech" power and the ordinary taxpayer gets less.  

I must have missed this, but now there are three VOE candidates.

Last Tuesday, Chapel Hill mayoral candidate Kevin Wolff became the second candidate for that position to file for voter-owned elections and the third in Chapel Hill. The voter-owned election program provides matching funds from the town for candidates that can show they have enough community support. Wolff said he decided to join the program to keep his options open, though he still has reservations. confims he added his name to VOE on August 25.

His recent electoral choices come across as a bit odd.  Is there some method to his "madness"?

I found it interesting to look back and reflect on this thread, especially discussions about whether or not the final exam would be passed (which I think it clearly has), and valid concerns like "I can't figure out how it can be effective if it's not required for all candidates" especially since rescue funds actually came into play.  Most especially this comment from the OCDP:This year's Chapel Hill election is not merely a local issue
-- it is important state-wide. The bill that would have extended public
financing was put on hold in the Senate because they wanted to see how
the Chapel Hill election goes. I wonder if seeing that VOEs are effective will help get it more use next election cycle?


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