Following testimony from second- and third-tier candidates over the past couple of months, Amanda Fritz and Erik Sten—the only two candidates for city council to qualify for public campaign funds under Voter-Owned Elections (VOE)—rolled into the Citizen Campaign Commission's monthly meeting last Monday, June 12, for a post-election interview session.
It was an important discussion for the commission, which is charged with making recommendations to improve the controversial system. The meeting was the first time the group had met in an official capacity with people who actually qualified to use the program.
Sten and Fritz both agreed on the fundamental need for the public campaign program. (Fritz: "The old system is disgusting, and I found as I went along that it's even more disgusting than I thought." Sten: "[With traditional fundraising] the city spends more time focusing on the issues important to people who fund campaigns.") But they differed on a few key issues—namely, what effect the VOE controversy (read: Emilie Boyles) had on their campaigns.
Sten said it was a "non-issue," and that it was rarely mentioned in debates and forums. Of course, he went into his campaign expecting a million-dollar VOE repeal effort by downtown business interests—anything less was bound to be a relief. And the upshot, he said, "is that because of everything that happened with this cycle, people now understand the system."
As for Fritz...
"I started going to house parties saying, 'Hello, I'm not Emilie Boyles,'" Fritz told the commission. "And I actually got some hate mail from people thinking I was Emilie Boyles." The biggest disadvantage, she said, was that Boyles' shenanigans grabbed most of the media coverage, and her campaign was ignored.
Sten was comparatively nonchalant about how the system needs to change, like maybe requiring that all signatures come from registered voters, or requiring verifiable receipts for cash contributions.
Fritz, though, came with a laundry list of suggestions. The strangest: Lowering the public funds—to, say, $100,000—as way of helping lesser-known candidates. Turns out, $150,000 is so much money that candidates could forget that they still have to organize grassroots support. But if the city lowers the amount and then redirects the savings to other profile-generating opportunities for the candidates, they might have a shot against incumbents.
In other words, not only will the city be handing over money, but now doing the candidates' campaign work for them. Sounds like a sweet deal.
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