Mike Kueber's Blog

May 8, 2013

Public financing of City Council campaigns

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 11:11 am
Tags: , , ,

A posting in local blog Concerned Citizens recently analyzed the District 8 race and endorsed Ron Nirenberg.    The posting elicited comments from several readers, including the following one from Alone Star that seemed especially perspicacious:   

  • Ron Nirenberg knocked on my door one Saturday in February and made a strong first impression with his claim of not being a politician and saying what I wanted to hear about focusing on basic city services. Unfortunately everything I’ve seen him do since then has been the epitome of a politician…the polished web site and videos, heavy hitting endorsements, disingenuous e-mail surveys, etc. He turned me off pretty quick.
  • Rolando Briones has all the baggage already cited, so I don’t consider him credible either.
  • That leaves Mike Kueber, who I will vote for. I wish he was putting more effort into his campaign. All he is doing is Facebook, his blog, and sending in candidate questionnaires. I didn’t even know he was running until I answered a phone survey and they gave me a choice of “other” besides Briones and Nirenberg. Sadly, most of the electorate will base their vote solely on name recognition. Without a single sign up anywhere in the district and his resolve to not raise or spend any money, Mike’s campaign is bypassing an opportunity to make a real difference in this race.

Alone Star not only correctly perceived that Nirenberg’s kumbaya campaign of transparency and accountability (a resident at the Oak Meadow HOA forum called it a campaign in favor of Mom and apple pie) was nothing more than a superficial marketing ploy, but also correctly noted that my campaign had resolved not to raise or spend money.  As I have previously blogged, my three-pronged campaign theme has been (1) experience (a private sector job with lots of responsibility), (2) political philosophy (a genuine fiscal conservative and a social libertarian), and finally (3) the absence of campaign money.    

But, as Alone Star points outs, the consequence of not spending money is that a lot of voters don’t know you exist.  When this campaign started, I was hopeful that the small number of voters in a City Council race (5,000 or about 7% of the city’s eligible voters) were high-information voters who did not need to be hand-fed information.  These voters would base their vote not on street signs, hijacked websites, or negative flyers, but rather on information from websites and the nonpartisan free media.        

There is, however, an option to relying on civic-minded people who are interested enough to do their own research on candidates, and that is public financing of political campaigns.  Despite being a fiscal conservative, I supported public financing in my blog almost three years ago in a post titled, “Is San Antonio Ready for Public Financing of Political Campaigns.”  The post was prompted by an Express-News editorial endorsing a bill that provided for public financing of congressional campaigns.  In the post, I said, I agreed wholeheartedly with the premise of the Fair Elections Now Act (FENA) – i.e., that the corrupting influence of money in politics will be reduced by public financing of campaigns. 

  • The issue of public financing of campaigns was fading from my radar until I saw an article in the NYTimes about NYC’s Campaign Finance Program.  The article prompted an obvious question – why not adopt public financing of campaigns for local elections in San Antonio?  Voters in San Antonio are so cynical about corruption in city government that they have adopted a draconian term-limits ordinance.  Although this has helped some, there is still a prevailing view that people with money have too much influence in San Antonio government.  Public financing of political campaigns would potentially minimize that influence.”

At that time, I recall contacting my Councilman Reed Williams about this subject.  As is his wont, Reed expressed general agreement with the concept, but indicated there would not be any broad support by the Council. 

Since that post, I haven’t heard a lot about public financing of political campaigns.  To the contrary, a year and a half ago I blogged about the tendency of the media to elevate candidates who could raise a lot of money: 

  • Earlier this week an article in Politico.com reported on the crop of promising political stars who were looking to make a big move up in the next election.  What were the criteria for earning a place in this prestigious grouping?  Actually there was only one criterion – how much money the candidate had been able obtain raise in the past few months.  Thus, Politico could have labeled this group as the greatest money grubbers, but instead it generously adorned them as promising stars.”

Last week, the NY Times reminded its readers of a proposal in New York state for the public financing of political campaigns.  The NY proposal calls for the state to multiply private contributions by 6 x 1.  By contrast, most of the existing state and local laws provide for public financing to be based on $5 contributions from individuals. 

According to various websites, the FENA was reintroduced in 2013, but there does not seem to be any reason that fiscal conservatives will accept this sort of spending.  Based on my experience in running for the San Antonio City Council, public financing seems like an excellent means of reducing the influence of moneyed special interests and leveling the playing field for those candidates who are not a part of the establishment.


  1. […] you may recall, I have blogged in the past few days ago about public financing of political campaigns and voter […]

    Pingback by Doing something about voter apathy | Mike Kueber's Blog — May 10, 2013 @ 8:13 pm | Reply

  2. It took me a while to look up that word and make sure you weren’t calling me a name.

    So you spent 0 and polled 5%. Maybe with $500 of yard signs that is 10%? Who knows how many votes a single mailer outlining your platform and listing the URL for your blog would have garnered.

    I can’t go there – public financing – yet. Especially if it is just a match. I don’t see how that helps.

    I’d rather see some rational relaxation of the current rules. As I understand it, a candidate cannot accept any anonymous contributions. Is that true? That means you can’t go to an HOA forum and stand at the back of the room and ask for people’s loose change. I interpret it to mean you can’t accept anonymous in kind contributions too. I was going to go get a blank yard sign and paint your name on it and put it up, but was worried I would get you in trouble if you didn’t report it.

    I too am perplexed about what to do next. Maybe flip a coin….

    Comment by Alone Star — May 14, 2013 @ 1:42 am | Reply

    • When I ran for Congress in 2010, I spent $15,000 of my own money, with most of it going for a single mailer doing exactly what you said. Most of the remainder was spent on flyers that I handed out while knocking on 1000s of doors. (I collected 700 signatures to get on the ballot.) The result – 7% against Quico Canseco, Will Hurd, and Doc Lowry. Of course, I was a much worse candidate running in an extremely conservative Republican primary. During the campaign, I read a campaigning book that said mailers are worthless unless you send a minimum of three and as many as five. I’m torn between your idealistic belief and the pragmatic advice of the pros. I’m also torn about using signs because it seems so cynical to focus on name identification, but I have a friend/politician Rebecca Cervera who swears that her first dollars go toward signs.

      I share your concerns about matching public financing, but a 6 to 1 match might help. Ideally, I’d prefer being able to convert signatures into cash, kind of like the IRS did with presidential funding. Ideally, a Council candidate could receive $10 to $25 of public financing for every voter signature obtained, up to a maximum of $25,000. And candidates would have to agree to take no other money if they participate in public financing. That would result in a lot more block-walking and would stir up a lot of pre-election interest, I think.

      Regarding anonymous and in-kind contributions, I suspect you are correct about anonymous contributions. But your example of in-kind contributions would not actually be a contribution. Rather, it would be advocacy, which is unlimited. That is what the Express-News did for Nirenberg. You couldn’t put a price on what they did to support his campaign, but they did not give anything directly to Ron. Instead, they merely advocated. That is why the Supreme Court in Citizens United said that corporations and rich people can spend unlimited amounts supporting candidates, but they can’t give anything directly to the candidate or even coordinate with a candidate’s campaign.

      btw – I noticed on the Concerned Citizen blog that Ron Nirenberg asked you to call him so that he could explain his campaign. Did you call him.

      btw – I stuggled with who to vote for, too, this weekend. After deciding, I called Rolando yesterday and will probably call Ron today.

      Comment by Mike Kueber — May 14, 2013 @ 6:04 pm | Reply

      • 2010 was probably not a good year to run as a social libertarian in the Republican primary. I’m not sure any year is a good year to run as a social libertarian in a Republican primary.

        Thanks for the detail on your 2010 run. I guess there are 2 reasons I am hung up on signs: First, I am guilty in the past of going into the polls and voting for someone based on no other reason than having seen more of their signs than any others, so I have voted purely on name recognition. Second, signs can help raise awareness. For example, I did not know the incumbent school board member in my district had an opponent until I saw his signs starting to pop up around the neighborhood. Once I was aware there was an opponent, I began doing my research so I could decide who to vote for, just like I did when I got the phone survey in March and was given the choice of Briones, Nirenberg, or the “other” D8 candidate. The problem, of course, is that people like you and I who do the due diligence amount to less than 10% in my estimation. That takes you back to the original conundrum…how do you get someone to go to the polls and vote for you? I was involved in two legislative campaigns. In one of those, the person who was clearly the better candidate lost 3-to-1 to a candidate whose only qualification was that he had the same last name as his father, a popular judge in town.

        Thanks for the clarification on in-kind contributions vs advocacy….I see the distinction now. Darn it, wish I had put up a sign for you.

        No, I did not call Ron. By then I had done my research and determined your views most closely matched mine, and I would be voting for you based on the issues, even if his campaign hadn’t turned me off. BTW, I thought Ron’s campaign was in bounds, although he veered off the high road with the cybersquat. My issue was that it was too well run for him to say he was not a politician. It would have been more accurate to say he had no political experience.

        Comment by Alone Star — May 16, 2013 @ 3:04 am

      • By the way, Ron has a nonstandard dictionary. He defines fiscal conservative as anyone who doesn’t waste money or spend it on corruption. That is why he calls himself a fiscal conservative. (His platform also includes some verbiage in favor of the private sector over the public sector, so that gives me some hope.) He also defines politician as equivalent to a corrupt or crooked politician, and that is why he says he will never be a politician. Clearly, he is an aspiring career progressive politician.

        Comment by Mike Kueber — May 17, 2013 @ 11:36 pm

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