Why do we need Democracy Dollars?

 The Voters’ Voice Initiative is a people-powered plan designed to transform our election process by creating an honest, transparent process for local candidates to run for office.   Democracy Dollars:

  • Gives you more choice.  Candidates who otherwise would not have the resources to run but do have good ideas and community support can now run for office.
  • Gives you and fellow citizens  an easy, fair way to participate in our local democracy.   We will level the playing field allowing all citizens will participate as both a voter and a campaign donor.
  • Gives you more trust in the political process by knowing how candidates are funded.  The election transparency website will provide graphs and tables tracking democracy dollars, cash contributions and campaign expenses easy-to-read and understand.  Plus, non-partisan candidate forums will be posted for view.

Has this been tried successfully anywhere else?

Yes.  With the increased costs of campaigns and independent expenditures, public financing is increasingly being used to fight back against the corrupting influence of special interest money on our political process.  There are over 26 cities and states that have existing public financing programs and from studying them we know that public financing has been proven to :

          1. Increase diversity in representation

          2. Increase engagement between candidates and constituents

          3. Increase citizen participation in the political process

          4. Decrease the influence of big corporate money on elections

The Voters’ Voice Initiative is modeled after the Honest Elections movement in Seattle which has been used in two city elections since it was voted on and approved by the citizens of Seattle in 2015.  Our coalition also received guidance from officials in the longest running public financing program in New York.  Their 20+ years of experience with their matching funds program provided valuable feedback on how the program can be successfully administered.  Austin, Texas passed a Democracy Dollar initiative in 2018.  Albuquerque, New Mexico is working on an Initiative to change their current Clean Elections system to a Democracy Dollar program.  They have gathered enough signatures to put it on the ballot.

Why do we need to change what we’re doing now?

When meeting with neighbors and community groups, we talk about our ideal candidate.  The person who would best represent us and work on our behalf.  In each meeting, with each group, we hear the same thing.  People want to vote for and elect someone who is honest, thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate, a good listener, ethical, hard-working and connected to their community.  At no point does anyone say they want to elect someone just because they are a skilled fundraiser or also happen to be wealthy.  

Yet we continue to operate within a system that excludes good people with good ideas from participating because of their lack of access to money and “we the people” pay for it.  We literally pay for it.  What is the cost to each of us for the continued failures to improve education, access to housing, public transportation and infrastructure in San Diego?  How have we spent millions of dollars in recent years and not made headway on the homeless crisis?  Will we respond to the climate crisis with bold and thoughtful policies?  Or will we suffer another failure in leadership like the pension scandal that hurt everyone in our communities for a decade?  We need to remove the financial barriers preventing good candidates from our communities from running for office.

We all know there are many elected officials who do great work on our behalf.  But the system requires that even once they get elected and are often required to constantly fundraise instead of working on our behalf.  To stay “employed” for us they have to essentially work a second job fundraising.  

Even when large donations from special interest don’t impact votes, the implied corruption from seeing the endless flow of money and lack of meaningful action creates an apathetic electorate. When you believe your vote doesn’t matter, you don’t vote.  Yet constituents and elected officials need to listen to each other and work together to see change in our communities.  By changing how campaigns are funded and giving control of those funds directly to all the people of San Diego, we can protect the foundation of our democratic process.  

How can we invest in this?

First, I am going to tell you why we must.  Right now, 77% of all Americans believe our government and institutions are corrupt.  Between 91 and 95% of Republicans, Democrats and Independents believe campaign finance reform is the defining issue of our time.  This funding  barrier is why we are failing to address every other challenge we face today.

Everything of value requires an investment.  Our city budget – all $4.3 billion dollars of it – is a direct reflection of where San Diegans want to invest in themselves.  We believe a strong democracy is a value all San Diegans share.  For San Diegans to be fairly and thoughtfully represented, we need the broadest pool of candidates, a deeply engaged electorate, and the most transparent disclosure system possible.  

Voters’ Voice Initiative would be an investment of about $8 per resident per year, or 0.16 percent of our total budget (.156%) - between 6 and 7 million dollars. This would be a minuscule investment by the city to empower the voters in our communities, and to invest in our local democracy. Just like fixing broken roads and other infrastructure (which will be easier if this gets passed!) It is time to stand up and fix what’s broken in our election infrastructure.

San Diego would be the largest city to adopt this bold new approach to election infrastructure.  Historically, cities lead the way with all trans-formative change from civil rights to equal rights to sustainable infrastructure.  San Diego – trusted home to the US Navy, Marines, and 1.3 million people, but with its history of corruption – can now be one of the leaders of the nationwide movement to fight back against the corrupting influence of big money on our elections by adopting the Voters’ Voice Initiative and running Democracy Dollar candidates.

Why does transparency matter?

Transparency is about shedding light on processes and actions. In our elections and government, it is knowing why, how, what, and how much. Transparency ensures that public officials, civil servants, community leaders all follow the same rules by requiring open disclosure, visible actions and reports on their activities. And it means that the general public can hold them to account. It is the surest way of guarding against corruption, and helps increase trust in the people and institutions on which our cities futures depends.

The transparency dashboard is meant to shine a light on the process of election fundraising in the city of San Diego.