Campaign finance is broken. More money might be the only way to fix it

That’s the proposition posed by democracy vouchers, an idea that has reached the Golden State.

This fall, Oakland voters will decide whether to distribute four vouchers, worth $25 each, to every city voter ahead of future elections. Oaklanders would be free to give those vouchers to candidates for mayor, city council, city attorney, city auditor or school board. Voters could split the vouchers among different campaigns, or give all four — the full $100 — to one candidate.

Not all campaigns could accept the vouchers. To qualify for vouchers, candidates would have to receive a certain number of traditional cash contributions and agree to campaign spending limits. But participating campaigns could redeem the vouchers for real money to spend on campaign activities, from polling to lawn signs. The money, estimated at $4 million per election, would come from the city’s general fund.

Democracy vouchers — or “democracy dollars,” as Oakland calls them — are gaining traction across California because of its pragmatic “if you can’t beat them, join them” logic.

Generally, a small number of mostly rich people — less than 1% of the population — donate to local political campaigns. This is the case in Oakland, too, where backers of “democracy dollars” have found that most election donations from Oakland residents come from a few wealthy neighborhoods. About half of the money doesn’t come…

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