Establishes public financing for city official and Board of Education elections, promotes transparency in campaign contributions and strengthens lobbying restrictions for former city officials and directors.
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What the Measure Would Do
This measure would create a public financing program for city official and Board of Education elections, known as “Democracy Dollars.” Under this program, every Oakland resident over the age of 18 will be offered $100, in the form of four $25 vouchers, to donate to their preferred local candidate(s). If passed, Democracy Dollars will be in effect for the 2024 election. During every two-year budget cycle, beginning in 2023, Oakland will allocate $4 million for vouchers from the General Purpose Fund. Any unspent revenue will remain in the program’s fund until it exceeds double its budgeted amount, after which excess funds will be returned to the General Purpose Fund. The measure also requires the city to fund Public Ethics Commission staff and technology to administer the program. The Office of the City Auditor estimates $700,000 in one-time start-up costs and $1.6 million in annual operating costs.
This measure also contains separate good government provisions aimed at increasing transparency and fairness in campaign finance:
- Local campaign contribution limits would be lowered to $600 for individuals and $1,200 for political committees. Campaign contribution limits are currently $900 for individuals and $1,800 for political committees.
- Independent expenditures such as mass mailings and advertisements supporting or opposing a local candidate would be required to disclose their three highest contributors.
- Lobbying restrictions for former city officials and directors would be extended from one year to two years.
This measure was created in response to multiple public reports that revealed significant racial and economic disparities in Oakland’s campaign finance system. Recently, reports by the Public Ethics Commission (2020) and Maplight (2022) found:
- Less than 1% of residents donate in Oakland elections.
- Half of all local campaign contributions came from donors outside of the city.
- Forty-five percent of Oakland campaign contributions came from three majority-white zip codes, even though these zip codes contain only 21% of the city’s population.
- Of donations from Oakland residents, 66% came from zip codes with a median household income of more than $75,000, while 25% of donations came from zip codes with a median household income below $60,000.
- In the last four elections in Oakland, 77% of races were won by candidates who raised the most money.
The reports concluded that Oakland’s existing campaign finance system gives disproportionate power over election outcomes to donors who live outside of Oakland and donors who live in Oakland’s wealthier and whiter neighborhoods.
This measure draws influence from a similar democracy voucher program in Seattle, which was passed by voters in 2015. Seattle’s program has shown increases in donation activity and number of people running for office. A 2022 University of Washington study observed that in the two election cycles since the program’s implementation, the number of donors per race increased by 350%. Donations of less than $200 increased by 270%, and there was an 86% rise in the number of candidates. A separate analysis also found that some residents were almost 12 times more likely to vote if they participated in the program.
This measure was placed on the ballot by the Oakland City Council. The measure requires a simple majority (50% plus one vote) to pass.
This measure provides every Oakland resident with the opportunity to donate to local candidates, giving political power to all residents regardless of personal income. This would reduce the disproportionate influence that high-income donors have in local elections and would make the donor pool better reflect Oakland’s racial and socioeconomic diversity. In turn, this program encourages candidates to pursue support from and engage with all Oakland voters, rather than just those with wealth or a strong voting record.
This measure will also encourage candidates from a range of backgrounds and income levels to run for office, since it provides qualifying candidates with access to public funding, lessening the need for access to traditional networks of wealthy donors.
- Measure W brings equity to Oakland elections by providing all residents with funds to donate to their preferred candidates and lowering campaign contribution limits. This will lessen the political power currently held by high-income and non-Oakland donors.
- Measure W could encourage more candidates to run for office and help the candidate pools to better reflect Oakland’s racial and socioeconomic diversity.
- This measure includes provisions that give the Public Ethics Commission and the City Council flexibility to amend the program to adapt to fiscal needs. This will lessen the potential burden of this program in times of budget hardship.
- Measure W increases transparency, giving voters more information about independent spending in local elections.
- The measure further limits the influence of former city officials and directors on city decisions by extending lobbying restrictions by an additional year.
- This measure doesn’t create a new revenue source and instead draws from Oakland’s General Purpose Fund, which would otherwise be spent on other priorities.
Oakland’s current campaign finance system is imbalanced and inequitable. In recent elections, most campaign contributions have come from wealthy residents or donors who do not live in Oakland, giving these donors a disproportionate amount of control over local elections. All residents, regardless of income, should have opportunities to engage with candidates and provide support during the elections process.
Even though it doesn’t create a new revenue source to fund the Democracy Dollars program, overall this measure is a step toward a more equitable democratic system. SPUR supports the measure’s goal to equitably involve all Oakland residents in the political process and commends the inclusion of good government provisions. The measure also has a multitude of safeguards designed to prevent abuse of the program and is allowed to adapt as Oakland’s economic climate changes.
 City of Oakland Public Ethics Commission, 2022 Contribution and Voluntary Spending Limits Adjustment, 2022, https://cao-94612.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/Advisory-February-Notice-of-2022-Contribution-and-Expenditure-Limits-rev-4.23.22.pdf.
 City of Oakland Public Ethics Commission, Race for Power: How Money in Oakland Politics Creates and Perpetuates Disparities Across Income and Race, September 2020, https://cao-94612.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/Report-Draft-Race-for-Power-9-2-20-FINAL.pdf.
 Bergen Smith, Campaign Cash: The Outsized Role of Money in Oakland Elections, Maplight, 2022, https://d0a40002-6a73-4299-b2a4-ebf4fbb8064f.usrfiles.com/ugd/d0a400_5ec459335c7c43f49242518cdb5f36ec.pdf.
 Lauren Kirschman, “Seattle Democracy Vouchers Increase Donations, Number of Candidates in City Elections,” UW News, May 26, 2022, https://www.washington.edu/news/2022/05/26/seattle-democracy-vouchers-increase-donations-number-of-candidates-in-city-elections/.
 Chris Langeler and Keshavan Sridhar, Honest Elections Seattle initiative Democracy Voucher Usage and Low-Turnout Voter Engagement Evaluation in 2017 and 2019, Win|Win Network, August 14, 2021, https://oakland.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=11041786&GUID=C15EF076-5716-49EB-A70E-03254AD1DB41.