City Council Increases Campaign Contribution Limit

[image-1]After a lengthy Finance Committee discussion yesterday, City Council approved an increase on the maximum amount of political campaign contributions allowed by a donor. These caps had not been increased in more than 20 years.

In short, the new limits cap individual campaign contributions to a mayoral candidate at $5,000. Political action committees may donate up to $7,500 to a mayoral candidate's campaign. These numbers came from Councilman Matt Zone, who suggested them toward the end of the meeting yesterday.

Relatedly, maximum contributions for City Council candidates have been increased to $1,500 for individuals and $3,000 for PACs.

That increase was approved by City Council at its regular evening meeting, by a vote of 13-3. (Council members Zack Reed, Michael Polensek and Kevin Conwell voted against the ordinance.)

Council President Kevin Kelley's original measure would have jacked up maximum contributions for Cleveland mayoral candidates to $10,000.

The biggest hangup among council members throughout the discussion seemed to be that $10,000 proposed limit for mayoral candidates. Once Zone began seeking a happy medium, the overall sense of debate petered out.

(Regarding the mayoral campaign contribution caps, Mayor Frank Jackson's office has said that he did not influence the introduction of this legislation.) 

Part of the day's debate involved the role of inflation, of course, but also the changing nature of political campaigns. Councilman Martin Keane pointed out how communication has evolved since 1994. It's just more expensive to reach out to voters in a competitive and earnest way, Keane said. He also said that the committee will need to really ground this legislation with reason — a method of explaining and justifying this measure, or what was at the time a specific $10,000 mayoral cap, to constituents.

In terms of that accountability question, Polensek added: "The decisions we make are going to affect future mayoral races...and we'd just better think about what foundation we're laying for our neighborhoods and our community."

Zone, offering his suggested numbers, which were eventually approved, said he recognizes the need for some sort of adjustment in 2016 and asserted that those running for the mayor's office next year in Cleveland will need to spend "$2 million minimum, absolutely."

Greg Coleridge, director of the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee, offered his thoughts at City Hall. He pointed out that there are various factors that "compete" against one another — i.e., the importance of having sufficient funds to run a credible political campaign vs. the establishment of proper limits that will guard against the influence of special interests (or even the perception of that influence).

"There is no mathematical formula," Coleridge said. "It is relative, and it is a balancing act."

Coleridge, asserting that massive campaign contributions have a stifling effect on the notion of free speech, landed on what he claimed was an old Chinese saying: "You are likely to end up where you're headed. And which direction are you heading in?"

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Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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