At Tuesday’s Carrboro Board of Aldermen meeting, an ordinance setting campaign contribution limits for mayor and aldermen campaigns was reenacted.
The ordinance, which was originally passed in 2009, caps individual donations at $250 with the exception of donations by the candidate themselves and their family members.
“This is really a way of getting local people involved and ensuring that campaign financing is reasonable, that it is something that the community is a part of and it is trying to end corruption when it comes to money in politics,” said Board of Aldermen member Randee Haven-O’Donnell.
In 2008, then-state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird — a former mayor of Carrboro — filed a bill in the N.C. General Assembly at Carrboro's request to amend the town's charter allowing Carrboro to set limits on campaign contributions in local elections.
The Board of Aldermen then passed the ordinance at the next available opportunity, said Damon Seils, a current Board of Aldermen member. The ordinance has to be reenacted every two years.
“I think the rationale for the first ordinance is as important today as it was then, and that was to limit the influence of money on our local campaigns,” Seils said. “I think the limit it places on candidates is a reasonable one, and I support it.”
Board of Aldermen member Bethany Chaney said that both Carrboro and Chapel Hill have some sort of limitation on local campaign contributions.
“I think that Chapel Hill’s amount is a little bit higher than ours — I don’t know how the amounts were chosen — but I think it’s consistent with the feeling that, if anything, local government should be the least affected or influenced by big money,” Chaney said.
Chaney, who was elected to the board in 2014 in a special election field of three candidates, set a personal limit for herself of $100 per donor.
In her campaign she raised $3,171 in cash, $400 in in-kind gifts and contributed $125 of her own money as well as about $220 in in-kind donations. She spent $2,513 in cash and including the in-kind gifts — which are counted as expenditures. In total, she spent $2,913.
“I think the benefit of having a cap at all is that it really makes candidates go out and ask people for support,” Chaney said. “If you’re a wealthy person who can finance your own campaign or you have wealthy friends who are willing to help you out, you really don’t have to go shake hands with anybody and say ‘I need your financial help,’ and it’s a humbling experience to do that.”
Chaney said every candidate should reach out to the community for support, rather than relying on large capital contributions.
“Democracy starts at home, and if big money influences our democracy in a way that keeps people out of it, then we don’t want a part of it,” Chaney said.
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