California City Approves Program To Give Residents $100 To Donate To Political Campaigns
A man fills out a ballot at a voting booth on May 17, 2022 in Mt. Gilead, North Carolina.
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

A California city has approved a program to give residents $100 every two years to donate to local political campaigns.

The Oakland City Council passed the “Democracy Dollars” measure this week.

“We deserve a government that prioritizes the needs of Oakland residents, rather than wealthy special interests,” Fair Elections Oakland, a committee funded by the ACLU, said on its website. “We need to know that our local elected officials are fighting for us—that they’re working to create affordable housing, improve our schools, and keep the streets safe—instead of helping out their wealthy campaign funders.”

The decision follows a question on the city’s November 8 ballot called Measure W. The initiative asked voters whether to provide all eligible Oakland residents, including non-citizens with green cards, with four $25 Democracy Dollars vouchers every two years to donate to qualifying local candidates of their choice. It was approved with almost 74% support.

Proponents argue that the program empowers lower-income residents to become more involved with local government. Fair Elections Oakland claims it “reduces candidates’ reliance on wealthy special interests and donors.”

“With campaigns funded by everyday Oaklanders, our local leaders will be more likely to listen to our concerns and prioritize our values,” the ACLU-funded committee claims.

Opponents argue that the plan is biased toward incumbents, lacks fraud controls, and fails to address political action committee spending. The state clearinghouse group estimated that the city “would incur approximately $700,000 in one-time start-up costs, approximately $1,600,000 in annual operating costs, and $3,845,000 in additional budget appropriation every two years.”

The program makes Oakland the second American city to provide such vouchers. In 2017, Seattle launched a similar program two years after voters approved a ballot measure.

A 2022 University of Washington study of the Seattle program found “a 53% increase in total contributions and a 350% increase in number of unique donors.” Most of the increases came from contributions of less than $200.

Providing financial support to non-citizen voters participating in local elections is an issue being discussed in the nation’s capital. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced a bill last month to stop the Washington, D.C., city government from using federal funds to support non-citizen voting in local elections.

The D.C. Council passed the measure shortly ahead of Cruz’s announcement.

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