Activists campaign for ballot measure to limit influence of money in city elections

Jasmany Flores/Senior Staff

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Berkeley activists kicked off a campaign supporting a November ballot measure Saturday that would limit the influence of money and lower the barrier of entry to running for elected city positions.

If Measure X1 passes, candidates for local office would receive public funds equal to six times the amount of their “qualified contributions,” or contributions made by a Berkeley resident that do not exceed $50. The matched funds will be capped at $120,000 for each mayoral candidate and $40,000 for each City Council candidate, and the total funding for the measure is equal to .16 percent of the city’s budget.

According to Yes on X1 volunteer Dan Newman, more than half of Berkeley campaign funds come from fewer than 350 households, while more than a third of City Council and mayoral election contributions come from outside of Berkeley. He said this measure will expand the number of people involved in campaigns and make local politicians more accountable to their entire electorate, rather than a just a few big donors.

“What has been shown in New York City and other places that have something some similar measure to X1 is that it broadens the base of support so candidates are beholden to their voters at large, not just a tiny fraction of campaign donors,” Newman said.

The most recent polling showed 40 percent of Berkeley residents in favor of the measure, according to Newman, and about a third of voters undecided. He said in order for the measure to pass, activists need to further educate voters.

Newman is asking volunteers to make “meaningful” donations to the campaign, whether it be $500, $200 or $20. No argument was filed in opposition to the measure.

The measure stipulates that both the potential for — and appearance of — corruption within Berkeley political campaigns and the current system is “discourag(ing) many otherwise qualified candidates from running for office” as justification for the policy.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington proposed the measure and has previously said the importance of reducing the power of money in election far outweighs the financial cost that the measure will have on the city. Los Angeles, New York City and Seattle have similar measures that limit campaign contributions in their local political campaigns.

City Council District 2 candidate Cheryl Davila, who has been a Berkeley resident for 35 years, said the measure would allow Berkeley’s residents to be better represented.

“We need to have this X1 so that regular, ethical people like me can run for City Council,” Davila said. “I just got tired … of all of the government’s not representing me or the people that I talk to or are friends with or the people in our constituency.”

Contact Pressly Pratt at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @presslypratt.