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Taking the campaign finance pledge

Each time I have run for local office in Durham, including my current campaign to serve as our city’s next mayor, I have made intentional efforts to fund my campaign primarily with the support of those living in Durham.  In my city council election in 2015, I raised over 88% of my campaign funds from Durham County residents.  As of August 25, I have raised $64,945 and 83% of that is from people who live in Durham. This year, as a candidate for mayor, I pledge to raise at least 75% of my campaign funds from those who live in Durham.

Honoring this pledge requires that I make decisions that will limit the total amount of money I raise. For example, I have turned down generous offers by residents of Orange County to hold fundraisers in support of my mayoral campaign.

While candidates cannot control who sends them campaign contributions, they can control how actively and aggressively they seek contributions from those living outside our county. Here are five modest steps I’m taking to reduce the likelihood of raising significant funds from outside our community:

  1. Pledging to raise no more than 25 percent of my campaign funds from outside Durham County.

  2. Displaying this pledge prominently on my campaign website’s donation page.

  3. Refraining from holding fundraisers outside Durham County.

  4. Pledging that I will not accept any financial contributions from Political Action Committees (PAC’s).

  5. Pledging that I will not accept any contributions from outside developers. (Okay, this one is easy. They aren’t sending me any donations anyway!)

Some have advised me against taking these steps out of concern that it will make me less competitive in what is shaping up to the be the most expensive city council race in Durham’s history, fueled in large part by contributions flowing in from outside Durham.

Here is why I believe this is an important stand to take, and why I think we should care about local campaign finance:

  • Money matters in politics, and how much campaigns raise is one the strongest factors in determining electoral success. This makes being intentional about where campaign funds come from matter.

  • Outside developers and outside PAC’s have a history of intervening with large contributions in Durham’s city council and county commission races. They don’t live in Durham, and their only connections to Durham are the development projects they hope to profit from. We can’t let these donations determine the outcome of local elections.

  • Durham’s residents, who have the most at stake in an election for city council, should have the most influence in determining who holds office.  

  • Local elected officials should feel accountable first and foremost to their constituents.  They also should have local strong roots. Both factors are less likely when candidates raise a majority of their campaign funds from outside the community they hope to serve.

  • Campaigns that raise huge sums of money from outside Durham will drive up the cost of running for office and make it more difficult for people to run who do not have wide national networks of wealthy individuals. Tying money to a local community’s giving capacity where individual contribution limits are in place can help contain the cost of running for office.

  • Taking a principled stand on this issue can help protect Durham from the outsized influence of outside interests that may not align with our vision for making the city we love a beacon of progressive values in the South.

There are a lot of issues that matter when it comes to evaluating candidates for office.  How candidates’ fundraising efforts reflect broad support from their constituents, align with the priorities and concerns of those they represent, and preserve healthy, participatory democracies should be one of them.  If you support these modest proposals to limit outside money for local elections, let other candidates know that this matters to you.

Visit my website stevefordurham.com to learn more about how I believe we can work together to make the city we love a city for all.

Yours,

Steve