The claim that supporters of Amherst’s new charter are beholden to Big Money has been exposed as a cynical messaging tactic. In fact, it is opponents of the charter who rely on large donations.
Surprised? Just look at the numbers from the two sides’ 2018 campaign finance reports. They don’t lie.
Of the $12,652 raised by Not This Charter and Vote No on the Charter, almost half of the money came from just nine large donors. Contributions under $50 made up just 16 percent of their fundraising.
In contrast, Amherst for All, the pro-charter group, raised $15,702 from 234 donors, and the average donation was only $67. Contributions under $50 amounted to 54 percent of all donations.
While the two anti-charter groups had seven donations of $500 or more (with the largest $1,000), Amherst for All had no contributions over $300.
The third anti-charter group, Town Meeting Works, missed the deadline for filing campaign finance reports.
“These campaigns claim to be working against Big Money in politics, but they are actively soliciting and benefiting from Big Money,” said Johanna Neumann, chair of Amherst for All. “Voters should ask, ‘Why are a handful of big donors pouring money into blocking the charter?’ One reason is that 1930s-era Representative Town Meeting lacks accountability and transparency, and is therefore easily manipulated by powerful interests who know how to work the system.”
The anti-charter groups’ willingness to take big donations while denouncing Big Money was also evident in their 2017 contributions, as I outlined in this blog post. Last year, they accepted a contribution of $2,400, which was 10 times the largest donation to Amherst for All. Just four donors contributed a total of $5,000, which was nearly half of all the money the “no” groups raised.
Anti-charter donations in 2017 were heavily dominated by Town Meeting members, who (not surprisingly) don’t want to give up their privileged status in Amherst. Two-thirds of the donations came from current Town Meeting members, four-fifths if you also count former members.
While Amherst for All received $3,376 in donations under $50 in 2017, the anti-charter groups received only $380 in small donations.
“Despite the misleading rhetoric and innuendo coming from these groups, Amherst for All has undeniably demonstrated its grass-roots support from small donors and regular voters who believe it’s past time to update our town government,” said Neumann.
Oh, and those donors with real estate interests who are supposedly bankrolling Amherst for All? There were a few, but they represented only a small percentage of donors. And donors with real estate interests have also contributed to the anti-charter side.
While the anti-charter groups are relying on large donations, they are also claiming that the 13-member council that will be created under the new charter will be beholden to large donations. This claim also does not stand up to scrutiny.
I explained why in this blog post. Here are the main reasons that Big Money won’t influence council elections, any more than it will influence the outcome of the charter election March 27.
- Council candidates won’t need great gobs of money, especially those running for the 10 district seats, and personal contact and compelling positions will be much more important;
- State law limits individual contributions to candidates to $1,000;
- Raising less money than opponents doesn’t sink a candidate, as School Committee member Peter Demling and six progressive candidates for the Greenfield council showed last year;
- All contributions over $50 will be public, and voters might look askance at $1,000 donations;
- The charter establishes a process for lesser-known candidates to introduce themselves and explain their positions at no cost;
- Amherst voters are well-educated and won’t allow elections to be controlled by Big Money.
Ironically, many of the same Town Meeting supporters who say they are concerned about Big Money influencing our elections voted “no” on the elementary school proposal — while the No campaign was primarily funded by a single $5,000 donation.
That donor is back in 2018, giving $250 to an anti-charter group.