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Mayor, City Council Announce Proposal for Campaign Finance Reform

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Mayor, City Council Announce Proposal for Campaign Finance ReformCouncil President Shannon Hardin announces campaign finance reform proposal during a November 28, 2018, press conference at the Michael B. Coleman Government Center. Photo via Columbus City Council.
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A new proposal for campaign finance reform would establish contribution limits for municipal elections for the first time in the city’s history, but local organization Yes We Can Columbus (YWC) says it doesn’t go far enough.

The proposal was announced on Wednesday, Nov. 28, by Mayor Andrew Ginther and Columbus City Council, and aims to keep “dark money” out of municipal elections.

“These reforms are aimed at making sure municipal elections are decided by the people, not by dark money dollars,” Ginther said in a press release. “They establish the city’s first contribution limits, while also bringing all campaign donations into the light so residents will know who is paying for political ads.”

The proposed legislation would accomplish the following:

Limit annual contributions to municipal elections to $12,707.79, the same limit for gubernatorial, Senate and House races.

Require anyone issuing election period communication to immediately disclose their contributions, expenditures and debt. This follows the Sept. 18 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing the disclosure of dark money used to influence elections.

Require auditing of all campaign finance filings to assure compliance.

Create a system to report and investigate alleged violations.

Allow a nonrefundable municipal tax credit of $50 per person or $100 per joint filer if filing a city tax return.

Yes We Can issued a statement on Wednesday, calling the contribution limit of 12,707.79 “absurdly high.” The group is part of a coalition working to get a ballot initiative in order that would put its own cap on campaign contributions in Columbus.

“Our limits that we would be proposing would be a fraction of the $12,000-plus that Ginther is proposing right now,” says Kayla Merchant, with YWC. “What he’s proposing is the same used for statewide races. When you look at that in comparison with municipal elections, it’s really egregious.”

Merchant says members of the coalition, whose other associated groups have yet to be identified, have met with council members and their legislative aides about campaign finance reform over the last several months. She says the proposed cap will do little to get big money out of politics.

“Mayor Ginther’s proposal is an attempt to prevent meaningful reforms coming from the grassroots,” says YWC organizer Nicole Butler in a statement. “Now is the time to commit to pursuing bold, aggressive policies that ensure our government works for all of us, not just the wealthy few.”

In a statement, Council President Shannon Hardin said the proposal was realistic, assuring that it would increase transparency and accountability in local elections. Council will vote on the legislation at their meeting on Dec. 10. If approved, it’ll take effect in time for the 2019 municipal elections.

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