Chicago voters endorsed by a wide margin Tuesday a plan to institute public campaign financing and limit outside contributions. The ballot measure, though non-binding, begins a process that will now move to city and state government, where legislation would be drafted.
Asked whether the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois should “reduce the influence of special interest money in elections by financing campaigns using small contributions from individuals and a limited amount of public money,” voters signaled yes by a 58-point margin, 79 percent to 21 percent.
As noted last week, Chicago “boasts” one of the most corrupt city governments in the United States. Advocates for the initiative, which also received the support of most mayoral candidates this cycle, hope that by reducing the influence of big donors, some of the incentive to use public power for private gain would also be reduced.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who failed to win a majority of the vote Tuesday and now faces an April runoff against Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, has been especially blessed by the less-regulated, current campaign finance system. The Illinois Public Interest Research Group reported 43 percent of Emanuel’s donors contributed $1,000 or more.
Garcia has also played by existing finance rules, but was outraised by Emanuel for the primary by a nearly 10 to 1 margin, with the mayor’s campaign taking in $13.6 million to the challenger’s $1.4 million.
With passage by such an overwhelming margin, advocates look to the next sessions of city and state government to move legislation to rein in that kind of runaway election fundraising.