Time for democracy dollars in Austin

Every few years, Council assigns a commission to consider changes to the city charter, which is basically like the city constitution. Recently, the commission came up with a bunch of recommended changes. Now City Council will decide whether to submit the proposed amendments to the voters for ratification on the ballot this November.

For a full explanation of the proposed changes, check out this summary by the Austin Bulldog.

Julio Gonzalez, an AustinPolitics.NET power user, shared a few thoughts:

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I get where Julio is coming from when it comes to setting up an even bigger (and independent) Ethics Commission. If you’ve paid enough attention to politics over the years, you’ll know to be skeptical that official ethics agencies will do much to stamp out the most pervasive forms of corruption in American politics and government. That’s because the most pervasive forms of corruption are generally legal (see: Citizens United v. FEC; Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC; Wisconsin Club for Growth v. Chisholm). And yes, there is always the potential that rules will be abused or selectively enforced. Indeed, there is no better demonstration of that than the cases that the current Ethics Review Commission has handled over the last few years. I’ve covered a number of them; most were trifling rules violations that were only brought to light due to a political dispute. But poor or misguided ethics enforcement does not justify the absence of an ethics authority. I’ll have to think about this one more.

I’m much more excited about the “democracy dollars” public financing of city elections proposed.

The recommendation calls for providing eligible Austin residents up to four $25 Democracy Dollar Vouchers per election cycle, which may be donated to a resident’s district council candidate or mayoral candidate. By extension that means that vouchers may not be contributed to council candidates outside a resident’s own district.

Yes, it will likely be pre-empted by the state legislature, but as I argued with paid sick leave, the anticipated assault is no reason to hold back when it comes to good policy. In fact, it might make good politics. People across the political spectrum are receptive to campaign finance reform; it’s time we get the ideas out there and force the political establishment to defend the corrupt status quo.

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