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Democratizing Campaign Dollars in Oakland

Thursday, September 29, 2022
Authors
Jonathan Mehta Stein, Executive Director, California Common Cause
liz suk, Executive Director, Oakland Rising Action
 

This is a pivotal moment in protecting and strengthening the fabric of American democracy. While we are still grappling with the destabilizing efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, we are watching the threat to democracy growing as state legislators in multiple states are pushing for new voting barriers that target Black and brown people, working-class folks, young people, and immigrants. At the same time, Californians have witnessed firsthand how big money and corporate special interests are snuffing out the voices of everyday voters by spending big to influence state and local elections. 

Here in Northern California, we may believe that we are isolated and immune from this on-going assault on our freedom to vote and our power to elect and hold our leaders accountable. But while the symptoms may be more severe elsewhere, the rise of white supremacy and growing peril of political violence threatens every California resident, whether you live in Palo Alto or Petaluma, Oakland or Orinda. 

We need clear legislation to protect our freedom to vote. We need to ensure fair districts, reform the filibuster, address the power of big money, and prevent partisan politicians from sabotaging the results of our elections. Things look grim. The Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act faced a grim fate in Congress and just last week the DISCLOSE Act was yet another victim to a Republican filibuster in the Senate.  

But we aren’t waiting. As Oakland residents, we are ready to lead. The fight for democracy now must turn to states and local governments, as grassroots leaders and organizations push for policies that build power in local communities.  

That’s why we’re so excited about our work on Fair Elections Oakland (Measure W on Oakland's November ballot), which will start to restore some balance in our democracy. It will create transparency in who funds elections, equip every Oaklander with the resources to support community-based candidates, and hold government accountable. Measure W: 

1. lowers Oakland’s contribution limits from $900 to $600, 
2. requires political ads to disclose their three biggest funders, and requires all independent expenditures be filed with the community-led Oakland Public Ethics Commission, where they can be accessed by the public, 
3. extends the limit on revolving door lobbying by former City officials by another year, and 
4. creates an innovative Democracy Dollars program to give Oaklanders a stronger voice in supporting campaigns that will fight for us. 
 

Measure W will help build a fully engaged, participatory, and community-driven democracy right here at home. It will allow all residents to support candidates who will best represent them no matter what neighborhood they live in, their race, or their class. 

Democracy dollars would build power in politically underrepresented communities, who don't have the resources to donate to candidates, and disrupt the concentration of giving power currently enjoyed by the disproportionately wealthy, disproportionately white communities in the Oakland hills. The democracy dollars program is modeled off a similar measure in Seattle, which resulted in increased numbers of small donors, increased donor diversity, and increased turnout by first-time voters. 

This is an opportunity for Northern California to show other communities, across the state and our country, that we can make the promise of democracy real for us all. 

We are your Oakland neighbors. We hope you will join us in voting YES on “W” this fall to fortify our local democracy in the Town. If you’re interested in learning more about our campaign, please visit our website at FairElectionsOakland.org

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