All too often, our politicians promise to fight for their communities and to represent all their constituents. However, once they’ve won an election, their top priority is re-election. And that means catering to the wealthy donors and corporate interests who can fund their next campaign.
But what if politicians could rely on the community for that money instead? This is the idea behind Democracy Dollars, a proposal to reform campaign finance in Evanston. Democracy Dollars would give every eligible voter in Evanston a voucher for a set amount of money (say, $100) to give to the political candidate (or candidates) of their choice in municipal elections. In return for participating in the program, candidates would agree to donation and spending limits.
Democracy Dollars would have three major benefits for Evanston: a more diverse donor pool, a more accessible ballot and more responsive elected officials.
When a similar program was implemented in Seattle in 2017, the number of small donations tripled, and the percentage of contributions coming from women, people of color and young people all increased. This means that ordinary Seattle residents, especially typically underrepresented residents, were able to amplify their voices to be heard alongside wealthy donors.
The Democracy Dollars program will also make it easier for any community member to access the ballot and run for office. In Seattle, Teresa Mosqueda, a 37-year-old with student loan debt and a one-bedroom apartment, said the city’s program allowed her to run for office while continuing to work her full-time job. Two-thirds of the money she raised during her campaign came from vouchers, and she ultimately won a seat on the Seattle City Council.
Mosqueda’s story also illuminates the final benefit of Democracy Dollars; when politicians can fund their campaigns with donations from the community, they will have no obligation to listen to corporate interests and big-money donors once in office. Elected officials will finally have no reason not to put the needs and concerns of community members first.
By reforming campaign finance and instituting Democracy Dollars, Evanston has a chance to change the way politics works in their community. It will be easier for residents to support their preferred political candidate or run for office themselves, and elected officials will be more responsive to all their constituents. Moreover, Evanston can be a model of fair, democratic elections for Chicago, the State of Illinois, and the entire country.
— Nate Fisher