SLO may give voters $20 to spend on candidates

March 17, 2016

moneyOn a 3-2 vote, the San Luis Obispo City Council endorsed the idea of distributing city funds to voters who could then donate the money to council candidates. Under the proposed scheme, city voters would receive $20 “democracy vouchers,” which they could only give to candidates who refuse to accept conventional campaign contributions.

The democracy voucher idea was first brought to the city by San Luis Obispo farmer William Ostrander, currently a candidate for Congress. Supporters of the proposal say it would increase voter participation in city elections and would prevent money from outside of the area swaying local voting.

On Tuesday, the council voted to direct city staff to prepare policy, legal and operational plans for a democracy voucher program. Councilmen John Ashbaugh, Dan Carpenter and Dan Rivoire voted in favor of the program, while Mayor Jan Marx and Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson cast the dissenting votes.

Carpenter said the proposal would level the playing field and lead to more candidates running for city office and more people engaged in voting. Marx said the democracy voucher idea was a solution in search of a problem, and people who support it should go through the ballot measure process to prove it is something citizens want.

City staff estimates the voucher program would cost $636,754 to $650,254 in the first year and $240,500 to $377,440 annually thereafter. The annual estimate factors in both election and non-election years.

Funding for the program would likely come from the city’s general fund.

Cal Poly political science professor Michael Latner, who is a proponent of the voucher program, said administrative costs could be lowered significantly.

There are currently about 25,000 registered voters in San Luis Obispo. It is unclear how many would participate in the voucher program.

Citizens Congress, the organization backing the plan, estimated voters would spend 20 percent of the voucher funds issued.

Existing city campaign finance rules prohibit donors from contributing more than $300 to a single campaign.

The proposed democracy voucher ordinance would set $50,000 as the maximum amount a candidate could receive in city election funds. The donation cap is three times the amount raised by any one candidate in the 2014 council race.



  1. nunsense says:

    how’s that sales tax increase to fund projects working out?

    (12) 12 Total Votes - 12 up - 0 down
  2. Jorge Estrada says:

    I would be inclined to change campaign rules so that money is NOT an allowable factor. I would require equal time of each candidate on the local TV broadcast station and radio broadcast (a requirement for the broadcast license too, no $). The candidates must work to personally sell themselves to the voters. No, committees, funds to manage, and punishable consequences for taking contributions (bribes) as in jail and lost privileges.

    (3) 9 Total Votes - 6 up - 3 down
  3. abigchocoholic says:

    Let me see if I have this straight.

    They took my money. Now they want to give a little of it back but not really because as they are giving it back to me I have to pledge to immediately give it back to one of them who is going to use it to promote himself?

    A perfect example of govt. thinking. And so efficient. Can you hire another staff member too to keep track of this new govt. program? I mean just to make sure you fiefdom continues to grow.


    (16) 16 Total Votes - 16 up - 0 down
  4. diamond says:

    Just When you think they can’t possibly get any dumber….

    (29) 31 Total Votes - 30 up - 1 down
  5. CARNAC says:

    Who dreams up this stuff?

    It does not take much for a local candidate to file and qualify for an election. If a candidate understands the issues and can properly articulate solutions, etc. then they will have voter support as well as financial support. It all starts with a clear head and good ideas the public will rally toward. Many winning candidates are out spent by losing candidates.

    Very sorry to see Dan supporting this idea he must have had a momentary lapse in brain function. Hopefully, he will change his mind.

    (25) 29 Total Votes - 27 up - 2 down
    • hijinks says:

      Dan’s running for higher office in a liberal district while he is a conservative. Do we need any more explanation for this action? Normally he would be “keep govmint out of elections.”

      (15) 17 Total Votes - 16 up - 1 down
    • r0y says:

      I also was wondering why Dan Carpenter would support such a thing. Without putting words in anyone’s mouths, could it be a jab at the local political parties? I don’t know.

      (9) 11 Total Votes - 10 up - 1 down

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