Mayor and Town Council


Council Committee on Voter Owned Elections: Sally Greene, Mark Kleinschmidt, Bill Strom, and Jim Ward


Proposed Public Campaign Financing Program for Chapel Hill


April 14, 2008




The purpose of this memorandum is to recommend a procedure for consideration of a voter owned election program for Chapel Hill municipal elections beginning with the Fall, 2009 Town Council elections.




On July 16, 2007, the North Carolina General Assembly ratified Session Law 2007-222 which authorized the Town of Chapel Hill to conduct a program for the public funding of municipal elections.  (Please see Attachment 1.)


On November 12, 2007, the Town Council established a Council Committee work on the development of such a program and to bring back a report and recommendation to the full Council for its consideration. 


The Council Committee on Voter Owned Elections has met a number of times over the last few months.  We have consulted with Kim Westbrook Strach of the North Carolina State Board of Elections and have had input and assistance from Bob Hall and Jenn Frye of Democracy North Carolina.  Staff support has been provided by Ralph Karpinos, Town Attorney.


On March 14, 2008, Kim Strach, Deputy Director, Campaign Finance Division, North Carolina State Board of Elections, provided to the Town the attached Memorandum, in accordance with Chapter 222 of the 2007 Session Laws, providing the guidelines we are to follow in establishing a public campaign financing program.  (Please see Attachment 2.)


Tonight we submit to the full Council a recommendation on next steps in the consideration of establishing a program to provide public funding for Town municipal election campaigns, beginning with the Fall, 2009 elections.




Statutory Authority


Chapel Hill is the first municipality in North Carolina to receive legislative authorization to provide a locally funded public campaign financing program.  Session Law 2007-222 provides the following key requirements.

  1. The program must be voluntary for candidates.
  2. Candidates participating in the program are required to demonstrate public support.
  3. Candidates participating are required to accept fund-raising and spending limits established by the Town.
  4. The Town’s requirements are drawn to further free and fair elections.
  5. The Town’s requirements do not discriminate based on race, creed, position on issues, incumbency or party affiliation.
  6. Public funds received are restricted to campaign purposes.
  7. Guidelines are drawn by State Board of Elections
  8. Unspent funds are returned to the Town.


Prior to establishing such a program, the Session Law requires that the Council hold at least one public hearing on the program. In addition, approval of the program by the State Board of Elections is required.  A report on the Town’s experience with the program is to be provided to State officials following the second election in which the program has been operational. 


Proposed Program


Our recommended program for Chapel Hill is detailed in Attachment 3.  Key points of the proposed program include the following:


  1. Declaration of participation. 


Candidates choosing to participate in the Town’s program will file a statement to that effect and commit to the program’s spending and fundraising restrictions. 


  1. Seed Money.


Up until the filing of a Declaration of participation, prospective Council candidates can raise up to $750 and prospective Mayoral candidates can raise up to $1500 in seed money.  Seed money is subject to current Chapel Hill campaign contribution limits (i.e., maximum contribution from non-family members would be $250).


  1. Demonstration of public support. 


Candidates choosing to participate in the Town’s program will be required, in order to receive Town funds, to demonstrate a level of support from the public by collecting an established number of qualifying contributions in amounts within the range provided for in the program.  Qualifying contributions are contributions of $5 to $20 and must come from residents of Chapel Hill who are registered to vote or eligible to register to vote in Chapel Hill.  Candidates for Town Council must raise at least $750 from at least 75 contributors. Candidates for Mayor must raise at least $1500 from at least 150 contributors. Once a candidate provides documentation of achieving this level of public support, they become a certified Voter-Owned Election (VOE) candidate. 


  1. Fund-raising limits. 


Candidates choosing to participate in the Town’s program will be required to accept strict limitations on the amount and source of private funds they can raise. Specifically, the program recommends that candidates for Town Council may raise no more than $2250 in qualifying contributions from residents eligible to vote in Town elections. Candidates for Mayor may raise no more than $4500 in qualifying contributions.  

Candidates who choose to participate and have received qualifying contributions in excess of these limits will have their public grants reduced accordingly or would be required to transfer the excess contributions to the public program.


  1. Town campaign funding.


The program will establish how much money would be available to candidates for Town elective office.  Our recommendation is that a certified VOE candidate for Town Council would receive a $3000 Town grant and that a certified VOE candidate for Mayor would receive a $9000 Town grant.  Thus, for example, assuming there are eight candidates for Town Council and three candidates for Mayor who choose to participate in the program, the total amount of Town grants (not counting any rescue funds as described in the paragraph 7 below) would be $51,000.


  1. Spending limits


Candidates choosing to participate in the program will be required to accept strict limitations on the amount they can spend on their campaigns from money raised and from personal resources.  The limits will be a total of the seed money, qualifying contributions and the Town’s grant.  Certified VOE candidates for Council would be restricted to their seed money of $750; qualifying contributions of $2250; and, Town grant of $3000, for a total of $6000.  Certified VOE candidates for Mayor would be restricted to their seed money of $1500; qualifying contributions of $4500; and, Town grant of $9000, for a total of $15,000.


  1. Rescue funds. 


Rescue funds are additional public funds that would be available to certified VOE candidates in the event that disclosure reports showed that a non-participating candidate’s fund raising or expenditures or the expenditures of an independent expenditure committee on electioneering advocacy exceeded 140% of the amount that VOE candidates are allowed to spend.  The program proposes once any non-participating candidate, in a required pre-election report, shows expenditures or fund raising exceeding 140% of the total amount which certified candidates are permitted to spend, each participating candidate would be entitled to receive a single grant of rescue funds.  Expenditures of committees that name candidates and exceed the limit would also result in rescue funds being made available.  For certified VOE Council candidates, rescue funds up to $2000 would be available and, for certified VOE Mayoral candidates, rescue funds up to $4000 would be available. We believe having rescue funds available may actually encourage all candidates to limit their campaign expenditures.


(Attachment 4 shows several examples of how paragraphs 2-7 would apply to different scenarios.)


  1. Reporting requirements.


New reporting requirements are established for all candidates for Town elective office, both those who are participating in the program and those who choose not to participate.  The new requirements include the more timely reporting of late-campaign expenditures referenced above in order to allow the administrators of the program to determine if rescue funds are to be provided in response to expenditures by non-participants. Non-participants would be required to report when their fund raising or expenditures reach the total amount permitted to be raised and spent by participating candidates and again upon raising or spending more than 140% of the amount permitted to be raised and spent by participating candidates.  Independent expenditure committees must do the same when their expenditures on electioneering advocacy reach 50%, 100% and 140% of the amount permitted to be raised and spent by participating candidates. All candidates must file a disclosure report 5 days before Election Day, covering activity through the sixth day before Election Day. 


  1. Adjustments to funding due to inflation.


The program would provide that the fund raising and grant limits be subject to adjustment by the Council in even-numbered years as part of the annual budget approval process every other year, in accordance with the guidelines from the State Board of Elections (Attachment 2) or some other method of adjustment that is approved by that Board.


  1. Administration.


The program will be administered by the State Board of Elections, with the possibility of some assistance by the Orange County Board of Elections.  Forfeiture of funds and civil penalties could be possible for non-compliance with regulations.  In addition, reports are required to be certified as correct and knowingly certifying a false report would be a criminal law matter. 




  1. We recommend that the Council adopt the attached Resolution calling a public hearing for May 12 on the proposed public campaign financing program as set out in this memorandum and in Attachment 2 with such amendments as the full Council deems appropriate.  The program will be put into an Ordinance format for presentation at the public hearing.  Our goal is to have the program in Ordinance form available on the Town’s website for early review no later than May 5.
  2. We further recommend that the Council begin with the 2008-09 Fiscal Year Budget, setting aside funds that would provide the funding for such a program for the Fall, 2009, Town municipal elections.  We recommend that as part of its consideration of the 2008-09 budget, funding of $50,000, be allocated for this program.  We anticipate that a recommendation for additional funding for the 2009 election campaign will be evaluated as part of the Council’s consideration of the 2009-10 budget next spring. 




  1. Chapter 222 of the 2007 Session Laws (p. 7).
  2. State Board of Elections Guidelines (653 KB pdf) (p. 9).
  3. Summary of Recommended Voter-Owned Election Program (p. 16).
  4. Examples (p. 19).