(via Facing South, Alex Kotch)
Real estate interests have outsize influence in Miami-Dade politics. For example, Gimenez has raised over $1.6 million for his re-election campaign, much of it coming from real estate developers and builders. His challenger, Raquel Regalado, has raised less than a quarter of that amount.
The real estate industry’s influence is what led Accountable Miami-Dade advisory board member Gihan Perera to begin thinking about local campaign finance reform. A longtime community organizer and executive director of the social justice organization The New Florida Majority, he focused on issues related to public housing and gentrification. He started registering and mobilizing voters, but, try as they might, he and the community leaders he worked with failed to get a response from Miami-Dade officials.
“We couldn’t move the dime on our core issues because commissioners wouldn’t move on them,” Perera told Facing South.
At the time, the county’s poorest district, which is mostly African-American, had a black commissioner, Dorrin Rolle. But according to Perera, Rolle didn’t vote in his community’s interest despite pressure from organized constituents. So Perera and his colleagues looked into why Rolle voted as he did.
“We realized all of his campaign money came from outside the community, from [real estate] developers and lobbyists,” Perera said. “The system was essentially rigged. The deck was stacked against us.”
Perera has also noticed in his work registering and mobilizing voters that people are apathetic about politics in part because they don’t think their vote leads to their interests being represented, damaging their trust in the system. Perera believes the Accountable Miami-Dade initiative could rebuild citizens’ confidence in the government.
“When our members want to start running for office, the biggest thing they come up against is fundraising,” Perera says. “If any of our people want a shot and they’re not getting bankrolled by big donors, this way is the only way we’ll be able to magnify their ability to run.”
Numerous studies have shown that public financing allows those without access to wealthy donors a real chance at running for office. Public financing also diversifies the donor pool. For example, a recent Demos study by Sean McElwee found that Miami-Dade’s black residents are dramatically underrepresented among overall donors to mayoral and county commission campaigns but are better represented among small donors.
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