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Citing inflation, Akron proposes increasing campaign contribution limits

·3 min read

Akron City Council is considering legislation that would increase campaign contribution limits for mayoral and city council races.

The measure comes in response to rising costs, said the bill's sponsor and council Vice President Jeff Fusco during Monday's rules committee meeting. Since campaign contributions were last addressed in 2014, inflation has risen nearly 25%.

"I think it's time," said Fusco, who serves as an at-large councilman. "Cost has gone up."

Jeff Fusco, Akron Council-At-Large
Jeff Fusco, Akron Council-At-Large

How much would contribution limits increase?

If passed, contribution limits from individual donors would increase from $750 to $1,000 for mayoral and at-large council races. For ward council members, contributions would be capped at $750, up from $500.

The bill would also add a provision that no candidate for mayor, at-large council or council ward could accept contributions exceeding $2,500 from any political party of political action committee. PACs were previously beholden to the individual contribution limit.

All contributions are filed with the Summit County Board of Elections and publicly available, including the name and address of each donor.

Another public hearing is coming

A public hearing was scheduled for Monday's rules committee meeting, but no community members showed up to speak. Public hearings are publicized on council's website and in the Akron Beacon Journal.

The discussion begins about 23:00:

Ward 8's Shammas Malik expressed concern over inadequate opportunities for the public to form an opinion and provide input. Council did not receive the legislation until Friday, he said, and council's clerk said legislation was posted on the website with the agenda Monday morning, several hours before the hearing. He said that leaves little to no time for people to do research and form an opinion.

The legislation was never actually posted online for public viewing. The Beacon Journal flagged two City Council members of the missing legislation on Thursday, and it was posted later that day.

“I guess I would question the process of having meaningful input and engagement of people if we just had a public hearing that none of us received the legislation before Friday and the public was not able to access before Monday," Malik said during the meeting. "That doesn’t seem to have a meaningful opportunity for people to comment."

Malik suggested adding another public hearing with increased efforts to engage Akron residents. Fusco agreed and worked with the law department to schedule new hearings on July 11 at the 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. meetings.

Some council members 'troubled' by contribution limit increase

Several council members pushed back on the proposal, saying it would hinder people from government participation and running for office.

“The reality is is that the more that you raise the limit on how much you can raise, the more difficult it is for the average person to get engaged in this process," said at-large councilwoman Linda Omobien. She said she was "troubled" by the legislation and would not support it.

Council members Tara Mosley (Ward 5) and Russ Neal (Ward 4) also expressed opposition.

"Certain segments of the population in our community do not have access to the same type of capital that others do when it comes to raising money for campaigns," Neal said.

Other council members, including Ward 10's Sharon Connor and council President Margo Sommerville, said while they support increased public engagement, there are tangible costs associated with a campaign, such as printing signs that have all risen in the past eight years.

"With costs rising, we need to look at these limits and make some adjustments," Sommerville said. "I’m a business owner. I hate raise prices, but that’s a reality. Things cost more money."

Only one Akron City Council race is on November's general election ballot. Ward 1's Nancy Holland, who was elected last summer following the death of councilman Rich Swirsky, will campaign to codify her place on council against Republican Mike Andes.

Mayor and council races will take place fall 2023.

Reporter Abbey Marshall is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Learn more at reportforamerica.org. Contact her at at amarshall1@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Akron proposes increasing campaign contributions limits