Leveling the Playing Field in Miami-Dade

BREAKING CAMPAIGN UPDATE: The 127K petitions sit untouched, Mayor Gimenez refuses to act, and the campaign coalitions have begun holding direction actions and have filed a lawsuit in attempts to get the county to do their job and count the petitions.

Despite the clear and time-sensitive demand by more than 127K petition signers to have the right to vote for public financing reform on the November ballot, the Secretary of Elections has yet to start counting the ballots, something which must be done immediately for the referendum to get on the ballot this year and avoid delaying the measure until 2018. This is happening because the mayor and 7 county commissioners didn’t show up to a meeting, so the commission couldn’t reach a quorum to vote to ask for the petitions to be counted. The fact that the will of the people to get big money out of their political system is being ignored is unconscionable.  Mayor Gimenez has the authority to mandate that Secretary of Elections start counting these ballots, but, as of now, he has not taken action.

Today, the Accountable Miami-Dade coalition filed a lawsuit, trying to compel the mayor and commission to move the process forward. You can follow the discussion in real time on Twitter with the hashtag: #StartCounting.

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On August 2nd, the Accountable Miami-Dade campaign, co-led by our Inclusive Democracy partner, New Florida Majority**, took a huge step towards increasing political equality and policy responsiveness. Together they submitted over 125,000 signed petitions to the Miami-Dade county clerk’s office calling for a referendum on how political campaigns are financed. 

Community activists — many of them Haitian and Latina members of New Florida Majority’s leadership pipeline project – helped unload two U-Haul truckloads of petitions. Then, they gathered with coalition allies to hold a press conference about this major accomplishment of the campaign coalition. As Gihan Perera, New Florida Majority's Executive Director siad, “Today we’re one step closer toward making Miami-Dade more inclusive of our communities by removing barriers to civic participation and getting big money out of politics.”

This ballot initiative that their members are so excited about, would lower the campaign contribution cap by 75%, bar major county vendors and their lobbyists from contributing to candidates, and create a system which would match donations of up to $100 with public contributions.  In order to tell that story, local organizers used a recently released report from Demos: Miami-Dade’s Donor Class: Black Political Participation in Miami-Dade. The report uses first of its kind research to match zip codes and give hard data about how Black people are underrepresented among local political donors. Another finding is that Black residents also make up a greater share of the small donor pool (those contributing less than $100) than the large donor pool. We use this and other data to demonstrate how the passing this referendum would be a huge step forward in leveling the playing field for Black people, and other, small donors. The overall impact of the measure would be that the average Miami-Dade voter would have a much stronger voice in who is elected to the offices of Mayor and County Commissioner. These changes would also increase accountability to the whole electorate. By breaking the chokehold of resources large donors hold on elected officials, elected officials could, and would, be more accountable to the broader electorate. Every Voice, an allied organization in the campaign effort, shares this assessment. David Donnelly, their Executive Director, has said “If this law passes in the fall, we believe it will be one of the strongest policies found anywhere in the country when it comes to lifting up the voices of regular people.”

As of the petition delivery on Tuesday, county commissioners now have 30 days to direct the elections supervisor to vet the signatures. After the elections supervisor begins that task, he will have 30 days to verify those signatures. When those signatures are verified, the county commission can either adopt the proposed legislation itself or give residents the opportunity to make the decision themselves in the next election.

While the commissioners and elections supervisors are verifying the 125,000 petition signatures, New Florida Majority (NFM) and Demos are moving full speed ahead to support a field and communications operation that will be critical to winning the vote on the referendum in November. In fact, the same-day signatures were dropped off, Demos staff, NFM, and ReThink Media launched a three day training of 75 New Florida Majority activists who will be the grassroots leadership powering this next phase of the campaign. When asked who from that group would like to one day run for office if being wealthy wasn’t a barrier to winning, more than a third of the room raised their hands.

As we kick off the next phase of work to secure a win in the campaign, we know that a victory will only be possible with a broad set of allies working closely together. Indeed, getting to this stage of the campaign would not have been possible without the other members of the Accountable Miami-Dade campaign coalition, and in particular the leadership of Every Voice, Civitas, and the local Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Each member of the coalition has a critical role to play, and we’ll continue to support their efforts in every way possible.

In the next few weeks, Demos will release a report uncovering the demographics of the current Miami-Dade donor base, and unpacking their influence on politics and policy in the county. Our reports provide data and background to fuel the message development we and others will be doing in collaboration with ReThink media. As we move forward, New Florida Majority’s leadership in engaging communities of color to support the initiative, and promoting the initiative in Miami’s ethnic media, will be critical to winning the ballot initiative in November. We will continue to be right at NFM’s side, to support their tremendous leadership in this campaign, and look forward to ongoing collaboration with others, including Every Voice, Civitas SEIU and others. 

If you’d like to donate to the campaign’s grassroots mobilization effort, you can contribute here to support the New Florida Majority Education 501c3 voter education program.

Looking forward to sharing more new about the next phase of this campaign. 

-Jodeen Olguín-Tayler

Vice President at Demos and Demos Action.

**New Florida Majority has been part of Demos’ Inclusive Democracy Project – a project we launched 18 months ago – which has been successful at supporting racial justice organizations to play leadership roles in democracy reform efforts. Together we shaping democracy reform campaigns with the explicit purpose that these reforms are tools for building political power for people of color, working class people, and women. We are trying to change who decides and who benefits. In order to achieve this goal, we know that how campaigns are won, and who leads them are key success indicators.

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