Nice. Looks like the city’s Ethics Commission is recommending a boost in campaign contribution limits for city candidates from $320 per individual to $1,000. Here was my argument in favor of just such a bump.

The facts are simple: Under the current limits, you can’t raise enough money to compete in these races unless you enroll the help of big-time bundlers and special interests. If you just hope to cobble together a coalition of independent thinkers to support you, you had better have a few hundred thousand dollars in your checking account and your spouse better not mind you spending it.

Many will say that the last thing this city needs is more money in the political process, and that those supported by wealthy individuals will just be able to outspend their rivals even more with higher limits.

To that, I counter with a simple argument: If one candidate has far more money than another, it is not certain he or she will win. I mean, one only need look at Steve Francis’ recent history.

No, you don’t need a lot of money. But you do need enough money to compete. You just do. And at $320 or $250 a pop, you can’t raise it without turning to bundlers.

If you don’t raise the limits, it’s not like you’re keeping money out of the system. The individual donations are the most transparent and easily traced forms of campaign funds out there. The more we enforce artificially low limits on these funds the more we encourage money to be spent through back channels — unlimited donations to the political parties for example.

The only alternative to ensuring that people have a chance to win in these elections would be to raise some sort of public financing system. I’d be willing to engage that idea as well. But if neither of these things happen, we will further entrench a reality in San Diego that you either need to have vast personal wealth to run for office or you need to promise the world to the people who want to buy it.


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