Publicly funded candidates for Santa Fe city offices will be able to receive more money to support their campaigns after the City Council on Wednesday approved changes to the municipal public campaign finance program intended to make it more attractive to would-be officeholders.
Under the previous city ordinance, qualifying candidates for mayor could receive a $60,000 disbursement from the public campaign fund, and qualifying candidates for City Council seats and the municipal judgeship could receive $15,000.
Now, candidates also may raise a limited amount of private contributions to buttress their public disbursement, and those private contributions will be matched by the city’s public campaign fund.
Effectively, mayoral candidates will see their potential campaign war chest capped at $120,000 (the $60,000 disbursement plus $30,000 in donations and a $30,000 city match) and council candidates at $22,500 (the $15,000 disbursement plus $3,750 in private funds and a $3,750 match).
The private donations to publicly funded candidates cannot exceed $100 from any one donor.
The council, which voted 5-2 in favor of the changes, discussed at length a provision in the new ordinance allowing the city Ethics and Campaign Review Board to promulgate a rule allowing electronic signatures on a publicly financed candidate’s qualifying contributions.
Councilors JoAnne Vigil Coppler and Chris Rivera were against the measure, with Rivera saying he felt the changes betrayed the original intent of the public financing program and Vigil Coppler saying the additional money for public candidates would likely prove ineffective in stemming the tide of so-called dark money, or election funding from political action committees.
“This is like sawing off the legs of a tabletop to make your table even,” Vigil Coppler said. “What good is it?”
The new ordinance is a compromise between ardent public campaign finance advocates and skeptical councilors, who resisted the original proposal to allow publicly financed candidates to raise additional private dollars to their hearts’ content.
The intent of the reform, backers said, is to encourage office-seekers to opt for the public money and disincentivize a private fundraising arms race, such as the 2018 mayoral contest, when Mayor Alan Webber raised a record-breaking sum of more than $315,000 and his rivals were unable to keep pace.
Only one candidate in that five-way race, former City Councilor Ron Trujillo, qualified for the $60,000 public disbursement. Trujillo finished a distant second.
The matching provision stems from the original conception of the city’s public campaign finance program, in which matching public campaign funds would have been tied to the amount privately financed candidates were raising.
Before Santa Fe could ever implement the program in a regular municipal election, however, the U.S. Supreme Court found such matching provisions to be unconstitutional, saying they would disadvantage privately funded candidates.