Testimony of Nicole Butler, English teacher and campaign finance reform working group coordinator for YWC Columbus

Dec. 4, 2018

My name is Nicole Butler, and I’m a volunteer with Yes We Can Columbus. I know we’ve had a few people share their concerns about this proposed set of reforms tonight, and I appreciate you hearing us out. I’m certainly no expert on campaign finance reform, but I’ve been working with YWC on this issue for the past year, and during that time, I’ve had the chance to learn how complex and important it really is. Indeed, it’s vital to get it right— the well-being of almost 900,000 people depend on it.

That’s why I’m urging you to take some more time to gather public input before allowing this proposal to come to a vote. While the disclosure reforms seem useful to me, I don’t think the proposed limit on donations—almost $13,000—is what the people want. Yes We Can has been circulating a survey to get some hard data to share with you tonight, and you might be interested to know that the results have been unambiguous— given choices ranging between $250 and $12,707.79, and out of 120 respondents so far, 95% of respondents expressed a preference for a limit between $250 and $3000. A minority—four people in total—have said they would prefer no limits whatsoever—and literally no one—not a single respondent—has expressed a preference for a limit that matches the state limit, which is the limit this proposal would set for our city. And I want to let you know that we have made every effort to
make the survey questions neutral and fair, and to circulate this survey widely—it’s a small sample size, but this is not a padded propaganda tool, these are real constituents, and I would bet money that if we polled every person in the city, you’d probably see a similar spread of results. I encourage you to look at the survey and the results for yourselves—I’d be more than happy to share it with you.

I understand the arguments in favor of a high limit. I’ve been told several times now that simply adopting the state limits is an adequate rationale, because they serve as a point of reference. I would like to point out that cities are not states. Compared to other cities, as far as I’ve been able to discover, this would be the highest limit on the books, by a factor of two. When cities get to a point of development where instituting these limits becomes a necessity, they never, ever make them this high—I think we disregard that fact at our peril.

I share your concern about dark money—but if the disclosure elements of this proposal are at all effective, I would think that would address the danger of our system becoming overwhelmed with dark money—that’s what they are intended to do, right? Why not pair them with a limit that’s more in line with the rest of the country. In the very least, I am reluctant to believe that everyone one of the thirteen US cities that are larger than Columbus have gotten this so entirely wrong, or that New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, Austin, San Diego, San Antonio, Houston, Jacksonville, San Jose, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Cleveland, Akron, Pittsburgh, and—well, more cities than I can possibly list here tonight—have all gotten this wrong, and are now awash in dark money.

In conclusion–these limits aren’t to protect you. They’re to protect us. And we deserve to have our wishes reflected in the laws that you pass. In the very least, I urge you to take the time to find out what the people want before making a decision. I don’t think you’ll be able to accomplish that by next Monday.
Thank you.