Council trio proposes public funding for Philadelphia candidates

 Philadelphia City Hall from street level (Nathaniel Hamilton/for NewsWorks)

Philadelphia City Hall from street level (Nathaniel Hamilton/for NewsWorks)

Candidates for Mayor, City Council and other offices in Philadelphia could get taxpayer funding for their campaigns under a bill proposed by three council members Thursday.

To qualify for public funding, candidates would have to do some spadework of their own, raising significant sums from small donors who live in the districts they’re running in.

Qualifying candidates would get a five-to-one public match for contributions of $150 or less, provided they meet minimum thresholds of low-contribution fundraising.

Mayoral candidates would have to raise $50,000 to qualify. Candidates for City Council and other offices would need $15,000 in those sub-$150 contributions.

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But the five-to-one match would mean that a $150 contribution would in effect be turned into $900.

The bill is co-sponsored by council members Maria Quinones Sanchez, Bobby Henon and Derek Green. It was drafted with the help of the staff of the City of Philadelphia Board of Ethics. Executive Director Shane Creamer said the idea is to change the way candidates connect with donors.

“Instead of seeking a smaller number of large donations they really have the incentive to seek a much higher number of smaller donations, which forces them to connect with their constituents on a much more intimate level,” Creamer said.

There are limits on what candidates can receive in public matching funds: $1 million for mayoral candidates, $300,000 for candidates for city controller and district attorney, and $100,000 for candidates for City Council and other city offices.

And to get the money the candidates would have to limit their total spending on the race to $2 million for mayoral candidates, $600,000 for district attorney and city controller candidates, and $200,000 for candidates for City Council and other offices.

Quinones Sanchez said after Thursday’s council session it’s time for a serious discussion about the growing influence of special interests in politics.

“This sets a great framework for that discussion. It outlines some of the best practices nationally,” she said. “My core value in this is incentivizing candidates to seek low-level contributions, and engaging their constituents so they’ll buy into the political process.”

The bill has two other co-sponsors, but it has a road to travel before enactment. There will be public hearings, a vote by the full council, and if it approves, a citywide voter referendum next year.

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