Repair work continued this week on Akron’s campaign contribution limits, first set by a misguided charter amendment approved in 1998. Originally, the limits were among the lowest in the country, $100 for ward candidates and $300 for mayoral and at-large candidates.
The low limits ended up being an incumbent-protection act, challengers unable to raise enough to run competitive campaigns. Other flaws cropped up, too. Finally, after more than a decade of confusion, lawsuits and unintended consequences, voters approved a charter change that placed campaign finance rules in the city’s ordinances, where they could be adjusted without a vote of the people.
That allowed the council to make realistic changes. In 2011, limits went up to $200 for ward candidates and to $450 for at-large and mayoral candidates. This week’s action will allow the ward and at-large candidates running next year to accept contributions of $400 and $650, respectively.
The council also passed a resolution urging state and federal lawmakers to rein in corporate spending to influence elections, now unlimited and, in many cases, secret, a move that Michael Williams, the at-large councilman who challenged Mayor Don Plusquellic last year, called “hypocritical.”
Not really. Akron’s limits are still low, compared to other Ohio cities. More, experience has shown that setting limits too low steers money away from candidates, to shadowy independent groups, where accountability is more difficult.