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Wealthy Whites' Unequal Voice in Miami: Another Case for Public Financing Systems

Sean McElwee

Our city governments make decisions that affect us most, yet we know very little about the ways that money influences them. In a previous post I explored new evidence that people of color are not well represented by their councils. One possible reason is the overwhelmingly white municipal donor classes. My previous research explored Chicago and Washington, D.C., both incredibly diverse cities with incredibly white donor classes. My newest research exploring both Miami-Dade County and Miami City reveals a similar pattern. Donors are whiter, more likely to be men, richer and more conservative than the the general population. However, I find that the small donor pool is far more diverse, which suggests that public financing could increase diversity in the donor pool.[...]

Because the small-donor pool is more diverse than the large-donor pool, a system of public financing could lead to a more diverse, representative donor pool. In Miami-Dade, there is a current ballot initiative to create a public financing system. The system would match small contributions (between $5 and $100) from county residents to any mayoral candidate or Board of County Commissioners candidate who qualifies by receiving small donations from 1,500 or 400 individuals, respectively. The contributions would be matched by six times the amount donated, giving officials incentives to take contributions from a more diverse pool of smaller donors. As Alex Kotch reports, the initiative has faced some resistance from officials, who did not reach a quorum for a meeting where they would vote to start counting petitions so that the initiative could be placed on the ballot. The commissioners later voted, 9-0, to begin counting the petition signatures, so the initiative may appear on the ballot. Public financing has recently won big victories in Maine and Seattle.