Local democracy in Burlingame just tilted further toward the wealthy. On Monday evening, a 3-2 majority on the City Council voted to eliminate the local contribution limit for political campaigns. Previously, candidates could raise a maximum of $720 from an individual. Under the new rules, local Burlingame elections will only be bound by the state’s default contribution limit of $4,900 per donor, enabling the wealthiest ones to give nearly seven times as much money going forward.
Whose interests are being served here? Burlingame will be switching to district elections in 2022, so the number of voters any candidate needs to reach is dropping 80%. Why is there any need to increase the contribution limit at all? Wealthy homeowners are more than adequately represented: Burlingame is 52% renters but with zero renters on the council for more than a decade.
The reasons for their yes votes offered by Mayor Ann O’Brien, Vice Mayor Ricardo Ortiz and Councilmember Donna Colson were largely incoherent, seemingly predicated on other cities not having bothered to establish local limits themselves. Colson even suggested that this higher contribution limit would encourage first-time candidates to run.
It’s hard to imagine first-time candidates being less intimidated by needing friends who could afford a $4,900 check instead of a $700 one. The more likely impact is that well-connected candidates will raise lots of money early and discourage other candidates from running.
Sadly, actions like this continue to reinforce some councilmembers’ reputations as failing to “get it” when it comes to equity.