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Denver City Council corrects Fair Elections Fund “rounding error” to save city over $4 million

Joe Rubino, The Denver Post on

Published in News & Features

The Denver City Council on Monday unanimously approved a handful of tweaks to the voter-approved Fair Elections Fund, including a change that will save the city an estimated $4.4 million over four years.

That doesn’t mean there will be less to go around when candidates next line up to run for City Council, mayor and other municipal offices in 2027 and possibly qualify for public financing to fuel their campaigns.

Before Monday, the city’s annual financial obligation to the Fair Elections Fund was poised to ratchet up almost 75% next year to $5 per resident. Now the city’s annual contribution to the fund is expected to rise from $2.88 per Denverite per year to $3.45 in 2025, corresponding with the rate of inflation in the Denver-Aurora-Lakewood metro area. It will be adjusted again in 2029.

That increase should funnel around $400,000 more into the pot each year than the current annual contribution of $2.1 million, according to the Denver Clerk and Recorder’s Office. That will grow the fund beyond its existing $8 million cap but stay within the realm of what voters intended when they approved the program more than five years ago, election officials say.

Monday’s change was the result of “literally a rounding error in the bill language,” deputy clerk and recorder Audrey Kline told the council’s Finance & Governance Committee last month. The code as written called for the city’s annual contributions to rise with inflation but be “rounded to the lowest $5.” That would have meant hiking the annual transfer to $3.6 million as early as next year. Council changed to “rounded to the nearest lowest one cent.”

Monday’s changes also ensure that all contribution limits will rise with inflation and clarified financial filing deadlines in the years leading up to an election.

 

Fair elections fund candidates accept lower contributions limits — $500 compared to $1,000 for mayor, $350 vs. $700 for at-large council seats and $200 vs $400 for district council seats, in this cycle — in return for public matches on donations between $5 and $50. The program’s 9-to-1 match ratio turns a $50 donation into $500 with taxpayer money.

The fund doled out just shy of $7.7 million to 47 candidates in the city’s 2023 election, the first cycle since the program was approved by voters in 2018. Mayor Mike Johnston and every sitting council member except for Amanda Sawyer received payments.

The clerk’s office is considering more substantive changes to the program but expects those discussions to take place next year.

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