Prop 8: More Time for Fundraising
Austinites will vote on proposed amendments to the city charter in the November election, and KUT News will take a closer look at each of the charter propositions. Proposition 8 would extending the period after an election in which a winning council member is allowed to continue raising campaign money.
Any Austinite who wants to get into city politics needs to know a couple of things about financing a campaign. One: There are contribution limits; individuals can donate up to $350 to a campaign. And two: By the time you are elected to the council, you may be in a lot of debt.
Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole first ran for the council in 2006. “I was actually $40,000 in debt at the end of that campaign,” Cole said.
Starting at midnight on Election Day, a winning council member is no longer allowed to receive campaign funds. Whatever debt they may have accrued — and the majority of them accrue some — will stay with them until the next election cycle, when they can campaign once again.
That’s what Prop 8 would change, by giving winning council members 30 days after an election to continue taking contributions.
So how come candidates get into so much debt? When Jackie Goodman, an Austin council member for 12 years, first ran in 1993 there were no contribution limits. She says that and running a tight ship helped her avoid debt. But expenditures pile up quickly.
“There’s not a lot of free media these days,” Goodman said. “There’s the social media now, which helps, which I didn’t have when I was running. But still, there are mail outs, there are signs, television, radio.”
And – in the past, at least – all City Council members have run at large, representing the entire city. Which means trying to reach every person in one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. That could change if one of two separate charter amendments that would create a system of geographic council representation passes next week.
Mark Littlefield is a political consultant in Austin. He says Prop 8 would put local politicians on a playing field similar to that of state politicians, who continue fundraising until 30 days before the legislative session. It also may encourage poorer Austinites to run for council.
“Hopefully, this might broaden that pool,” Littlefield said. “Hey, guess what? You might go into debt. You might win. But, you’ll have a period of time to either pay back some of that debt, maybe all of it, maybe a portion of it. So, you know what? I may run for City Council now. That kind of gives me more options.”
Not everyone likes the idea of extending the fundraising period, though. Those against Prop 8 say that it would open indebted council members to the influence of the people or groups who would help them get out of the red.