Updated: Mar 2
Should the Mayor and members of the Common Council be subject to term limits? Should we stop allowing large donations to political campaigns here in Appleton? Read below to find out more.
I talked extensively about reforming elections when I ran for Governor (more on that in a future blog post) as it was part of the first plank in the platform, which was "Take back our government." As a means to implement this, I advocated for passing the bi-partisan developed American Anti-Corruption Act.
In a nutshell, this act "is model policy that sets a framework for city, state and federal laws to fix our broken political system. It fundamentally reshapes the rules of American politics and restores the people as the most important stakeholders in our political system. The Anti-Corruption Act has three primary goals:
1.) Stop political bribery so special interests can’t use job offers and donations to influence politicians.
2.) End secret money so people know who’s buying political power.
3.) Fix our broken elections so the people, not the political establishment, are the ones in control." (1)
While I'm not saying there is bribery or dark money in local Appleton politics, and I fully realize there are limits to what we have control over at the local level, there are some simple changes we could make. If I am elected as District 4 Alderperson, I would like to propose to the common council that we explore the following:
1.) Term Limits. This is no knock on our current Mayor, as he has done a great job, but 24 years is too long to be in the same office. While I support the aforementioned American Anti-Corruption Act, I feel that their recommendation of 18 years total at each level of government is too long. Career politicians are a big part of our problem. I like 8 years, but that is just me. What do you think, do we need term limits? If we do,what is a good number?
2.) Campaign Fundraising. This is another problem. Right now the state sets the maximum an individual can donate for local office as follows: "For districts with a population of 25,001 or greater, $.02 times the population, up to $6,000". Here in Appleton that comes out to $1,494.78 per person. For me, that is way too high of a number. While I like to think I'm an ethical and impartial person, if someone gave me $1,400 to spend on my campaign, I know it would influence me if that contributor asked me for something. I would like to see that number lowered to no more than $100. And even that may be too high for my taste. But that is just me. Do you agree that we should lower this number? Or do you think we should leave it as is? Or perhaps you'd like to argue that it should be raised, though right now the maximum amount is capped by state law. (2)
(1) See https://anticorruptionact.org/
(2) I've read the 2015 Wisconsin Act 117 and searched the Wisconsin Elections Commission Website, among others, and not found anything explicitly stating local government can't lower the maximum individual allowed contribution, but I haven't yet been able to verify that we can either. I've reached out to a few sources for help determining this, but If you, or anyone you know of, could confirm that we can legally lower the individual campaign contribution limit for public offices here in Appleton, I'd appreciate you sharing that with me. There is also the secondary problem of dark money. This is the ability of PACs (Political Action Committee) and their like being able to spend money on local elections outside of the campaign officially associated with the candidate. While there are rules about this, they aren't the most robust and the money they spend can have a large influence on voting. Fixing this will take reform at both the state and federal level, which is also addressed in the American Anti-Corruption Act. If you'd like to talk more about this and how we can work to address these non local issues, please don't hesitate to reach out to me. I'd like to fix things that are broken, even if they are outside the purview of the local office I am running for.
(NB) Another way to run local elections would be too have them be publicly funded. That would totally level the playing field. I didn't include this in the main body as too many ideas can dilute the conversation. This idea is also subject to the same caveats I outlined in footnote (2) above. But If I'm diluting things, there are many other types of reform we could consider, including the way we do voting entirely. For more on that topic, see: "To Build A Better Ballot" This is a great overview of different voting systems, the theory behind them, and interactive games that help you to understand what the problems are with each type, for if you play with the models, none of them are perfect. That being said, some are obviously better than others. But guess which one we have? Yep - Here in the good ol' U.S. of A. we have one of the worst and least representative voting models. The First Past The Post system with two parties. Why am I not surprised.