Running for office has become an increasingly expensive proposition in America. Yet, I’ve never met a single voter that equates the trillions of dollars spent with improved outcomes. Many voters, myself included, think the opposite may be true.
The steep costs limit who can afford to run and create a quandary for those who do. If we can reduce the cost of running and spread the donations across a broader group of donors, candidates and voters will benefit as will our democracy. Improving transparency will increase public trust and may decrease spending on negative attack ads. As always, I believe cities should lead the charge and I would like Scottsdale to consider the below five reforms.
Limit Donations In Scottsdale, Council candidates can accept up to $6,450 from a single donor*. In Tempe, donors max out at just over $500. In 2016, Tempe voters approved campaign limits in a landslide election. With over 90% voter support, the charter amendment also limited PAC donations and placed a combined PAC contribution cap of $10,000. Appropriate limits for Scottsdale, likely, should be higher.
How To Make it Happen: A City Council majority can refer a charter amendment to the ballot and have voters decide. Unlike a city ordinance, the legislature cannot challenge a voter-approved Charter amendment.
2. Anonymous No More We’ve all seen not-quite-factual attack ads funded by innocuous-sounding groups such as “Americans for Blue Skies”. In Arizona, these independent expenditure campaigns do not have to disclose donors, except in Tempe. In the US, 33 states now require donor disclosures. Tempe based it’s disclosure rules on a Montana law.
How To Make it Happen: Council can include the disclosure requirement as part of the charter amendment (above).
3. Keep Public Right of Ways Political Sign Free To preserve the aesthetics of Scottsdale’s streetscapes, Council approved a resolution in 2007 prohibiting signs in public right-of-ways. Think street corners. In 2011, the State legislature passed into law HB 2500 prohibiting Scottsdale’s authority to enforce the ordinance. Restoring local control has aesthetic upsides and will also be a win for candidate pocketbooks and the environment. One possible downside is reduced candidate visibility and that may favor incumbent candidates.
How to Make it Happen: Legislative action to reverse HB 2500 and restore local control.
4. Transparency via the Ethics Code It is legal for a candidate to accept donations from donors who have business coming before the City Council. Making such donations illegal or requiring recusals is worthy of consideration however this recommendation is to ensure transparency during Council meetings. I propose that the Council adopt a threshold donation and then itemize donors/recipients on applicable Council meeting agendas.
How To Make It Happen: A Council majority can add disclosure requirements to the City’s ethics code. Council is scheduled to review and revise the ethics code in 2021.
5. Close Disclosure Loopholes Unlike most campaign communications, social media posts and text messages are not required to include “Paid for by” and “authorized by” disclosures. Let’s fix that.
How to Make it Happen: Legislative action to amend A.R.S.16-925. Advertising and fund-raising disclosure statements [AZ Revised Statutes]
We all know that money will influence politics and vice versa to some degree but we can do a heck of a lot better. Americans deserve laws that enable more citizens to run for office and reward those that represent their constituents. Perhaps less money spent on campaigns can free up more to invest in America.
Editor’s note: Ms. Whitehead is a member of Scottsdale City Council