Testimony of Joe Sommer, community activist

Dec. 4, 2018

The 2016 Democratic Party Platform states: “Big money is drowning out the voices of everyday Americans.” And it says Democrats want “a government that represents the American people, and not just a handful of powerful and wealthy special interests.”

If the contribution limit is set at $12,707 per year, candidates for city offices will rely on big-money interests to fund their campaigns. A small group of wealthy donors giving the maximum amount could finance campaigns for city offices. And as former longtime City Attorney Richard Pfeiffer told Columbus Monthly last December: “People don’t give you all that money because they think you’re an intellectual, that you’re going to give good judgment. They want you to do something.”

The National Democratic Platform also states: “Our vision for American democracy is a nation in which all people, regardless of their income, can . . . run for office without needing to depend on large contributions from the wealthy and the powerful.” Achieving that vision requires enabling candidates to be heard by the public without depending “on large contributions from the wealthy and powerful.”

The 2016 platform therefore says Democrats will fight for “a small donor matching public financing system.” This system would help candidates not backed by big money to be heard on TV. Another means of allowing candidates without money to appear on television would be to bring back public access TV.

In the Columbus Monthly article, former City Attorney Pfeiffer indicated that candidates have to be seen on TV in order to win. It also said his son manages a public access TV station in Massachusetts. And Pfeiffer has retired to Charlotte, North Carolina, another city having a vibrant public access TV station.

In conclusion, to make the campaign-finance proposal consistent with what Democrats wisely advocate for in their national platform, I urge Council to significantly lower the contribution limits and to institute means for candidates not backed by big money to be heard on television.