The agenda listed Adjustments to the Voter-Owned Election program among the discussion items for Wednesday’s meeting. The town enacted the VOE program two years ago to encourage people who have more drive than money to run for public office. Candidates who choose to participate – the program is voluntary – must abide by a cap on what they spend on their campaigns. In return, the town provides funding for the campaign. Candidates who want to participate in the VOE program also must collect a minimum number of qualifying contributions of between $5 and $20. In 2009, that threshold was 75 for council candidates and 150 for mayoral candidates. The ordinance requires that the figures for the number of contributions, maximum seed fund and other limits be adjusted in even-numbered years to reflect the change in the Consumer Price Index and meet State Board of Elections guidelines.
In 2009, the first year of the program, council member Penny Rich and Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt participated.
Rich opened the discussion Wednesday by objecting to the increase in the minimum number of contributions, saying that even the original numbers were too high. She wanted a chance for participants to give feedback on what was a pilot program. Sally Greene and Jim Ward admitted that the original figures had been chosen arbitrarily but once chosen, there was no way of going back.
Then Matt Czajkowski spoke up, once again shining light into corners some wish would remain dark. He said a discussion of VOE should address the issue of PACs. Though he kept his words neutral and mentioned no names, only one PAC had reared its ugly head in last year’s election.
A few days before the 2009 election, with the mayoral race between Czajkowski and Kleinschmidt in a dead heat and Kleinschmidt almost at his spending cap, former council member Cam Hill started a PAC and anonymously sent out campaign literature bearing erroneous information in an attempt to smear Czajkowski. The amount Hill spent through his PAC blasted through the VOE spending limits for Kleinschmidt, but because the money came from a PAC, it was legal for Kleinschmidt’s campaign to accept the help. Although he had several opportunities to repudiate Hill’s actions, Kleinschmidt instead defended the legality of Hill’s scheme.
Kleinschmidt’s temper flared when Czajkowski brought up the topic. Ward then rushed to the mayor’s defense, sniping that he wished people sitting on the dais were there through funding from taxes rather than through “their friends’ deep pockets.” It was a cheap shot that showed a side of himself we can only hope he now regrets.
Czajkowski is right that PACs create a gaping hole in the intent of the VOE program and make a mockery of it.
Kleinschmidt insisted that PACs have been present in past elections. Rich said PACs don’t corrupt the VOE program.
Citizens have a chance to weigh in at the public hearing on Oct. 27. See you there.
– Nancy Oates