Understanding the Issue

The Importance of Fair Elections

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About the issue

Our campaign finance system is broken and does not serve everyday Chicagoans. Political campaigns have become too expensive. The total spent by all congressional candidates rose from $77 million in 1974 to $1.8 billion in 2010 — an increase of $1.7 billion, more than five times the rate of inflation.

While 64% of eligible Americans voted in the November 2008 election, less than 0.5% are responsible for the bulk of the money that politicians raised from individual contributors. The result is that, all too often, well-funded lobbyists and large special interests determine who is elected and gain an extreme undue influence over public policy decisions at the expense of the needs of average people.

In February 2015, Chicago voters were given the opportunity to support a ballot question calling for a small donor match campaign finance program. The ballot question asked "Should the City of Chicago or the State of Illinois reduce the influence of special interest money in elections by financing campaigns using small contributions from individuals and a limited amount of public money?" 79% of all Chicago voters supported the proposal, a clear mandate to implement Fair Elections.


About the ordinance

The ordinance is a small donor match campaign finance program that increases competition among candidates and increases political participation. Following the Citizens United decision, unlimited Super PACs and special interest funders now dominate our elections.

The role played by influence-seeking money in our political system affects almost all aspects of public policy in the city. Empowered citizens are the answer to successfully challenging this broken system. If small contributions are magnified with public matching funds, millions of citizens can change how campaigns are run and won.

"...citizens can change how campaigns are run and won..."


Frequently Asked Questions

Small Donor Match Campaign Finance Program


A voluntary system in which small donations to candidates are matched with public funds at a multiple ratio, which increases the importance of small donations and increases the incentive for a broader base of voters to participate in funding elections.
Yes. The model program is in New York City, where direct individual contributions to a participating campaign are eligible to be matched at a 6-to-1 rate, up to $175 per contributor ($1,050 maximum in matching funds per contributor.) Other notable cities with a small donor matching campaign program vary from Los Angeles, CA; New Haven, CT; to Albuquerque, NM; to Austin, TX; to Boulder, CO.
Yes. A multiple-dollar public match on low-dollar donations will enable more candidates to compete for office with candidates who are financially backed by large special interests. It opens the political process to persons who previously did not have access to sufficient funding resources to run a competitive campaign. By matching these modest contributions, the program allows participating candidates to fundraise by reaching out to all members of the community, expanding the power of ordinary small donors and reducing or even eliminating the need for office-seekers to spend large amounts of their time soliciting big donors.
Yes. Those who contribute small contributions to publicly funded candidates generally reflect the characteristics of the electorate as a whole. In New York City, for example, small donor participation in some for the city’s low-income African-American, Asian, and Latino neighborhoods was far more robust in city council races with small donor public financing than in state races without the matching program. In addition, the pool of the number of donors who gave to participating candidates in NYC grew by 35% after the first election cycle utilizing the six-to-one match system.
Yes. Following the Citizens United decision, unlimited contributions, PACs, Super PACs, secret money, corporate donors, lobbyists, and other special interest funders now dominate our elections. The role played by influence-seeking money in our political system affects almost all aspects of public policy in the country. Empowered citizens are the answer to successfully challenging this corrupt system. If small contributions are magnified with multiple public matching funds, millions of citizens can change how campaigns are run and won.
No. Participating in the small donor match program is voluntary.
Participants include individuals (any Chicago resident who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident can contribute to participating small donor match candidates and their contributions will be eligible to be matched with public funds). In New York City, political committees, unions, sole proprietorships, and, under certain restricted circumstances, minors under age 18, can also contribute. In Chicago, the specifics will be worked out in the legislative process.
No individual can contribute more than $500 to a candidate. However, candidates can raise donations up to $500 from as many people as they are able to.
Fair Elections will allow elected officials and candidates to fuse constituency outreach with fundraising. Due to the match, donations as small as $5 can have a significant impact on the race. This means that candidates will value the participation of all donors, not just the wealthy few.
In addition to various disclosure, certification, reporting, and other legal requirements, eligibility to receive small donor matching funds requires a candidate to pass thresholds for number of small contributors and total amount from small contributors, from the candidate’s community.
Candidates who join the program are not bound by any expenditure limits. This ensures that opting into this program still allows candidates across the city to run a viable campaign.
Small donor match programs place limits on the total amount of matching public funds a participating campaign may receive, depending on the office. See the ordinance above for specific details.