SF Chronicle: This under-the-radar measure passed by voters could reshape Oakland elections

Published by Oakland Rising Action on

Bob Egelko | San Francisco Chronicle | Nov. 29, 2022

The financing of election campaigns, and their results, have been increasingly dominated by a small number of wealthy donors. But a newly approved ballot measure in Oakland is likely to give everyday people more of a voice in future elections, judging from results in the only other U.S. city with such a law.

Measure W, supported by nearly 74% of Oakland voters on Nov. 8, requires the city to send four $25 vouchers every two years to each resident 18 and over, including non-U.S. citizens with legal permanent residency, to donate to one or more candidates for mayor, City Council or the school board. The candidates would have to abide by spending limits. The money, about $4 million per election, will come from the city’s general fund, which currently pays for a little-used program of limited public funding for local candidates.

Proponents call the vouchers Democracy Dollars. Oakland is the second U.S. city to enact such a program; the first, Seattle, implemented it in 2017, two years after voter approval, and has reported substantial changes in its elections, with more public involvement.

According to a University of Washington study, the number of campaign contributors rose by 350% under the new system, and the number of small donations, those under $200, climbed by 250%. The number of candidates in local races increased by 86%, and incumbents became much less likely to win re-election. And in last year’s Seattle elections, a majority of candidates, including the two finalists for mayor, accepted vouchers and the accompanying limits on campaign spending.

“It has increased participation in lesser areas in Seattle, and voter turnout from communities of color” and in traditionally low-turnout areas, said Liz Suk, executive director of Oakland Rising, one of the groups that sponsored Measure W. “The way folks are campaigning has changed.”

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