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The City Council’s Campaign Finance Reform Proposal is Anti-Democratic

By Thomas Maisonneuve
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

Last Monday, the newly elected Cambridge City Council explored a proposal to restrict the political participation of developers and those who favor development. We posit, however, that the amendment in question is far too underdeveloped. The proposal would limit campaign donations from developers and those who favor development to $200, while all other actors would remain subject to the current legal limit of $1,000. There may be many laudable paths to campaign finance reform but this proposal, emerging as almost tyrannical in nature, is several steps removed from any of them.

Perhaps most outrageous about this plan of action is the fact that the proposed restriction would apply not only to developers, but would extend to anyone who is merely in favor of development. Whenever the council considers development, there are actors who support it and those who oppose it. To restrict donations from one side of a political fight but not the other is inimical to the kind of viewpoint neutrality that is absolutely essential to democracy. At the most basic level, this overreach is more than enough to earn our opposition.

But even if the council had narrowed its proposal to developers only, this move would still mark an overstepping of boundaries. We are more sympathetic to the goal of preventing direct financial conflicts of interest. But ultimately, every Cambridge resident has an interest in what our government does. Why single out this one conflict over every other?

In other words, we condemn any targeted restriction on a single group’s capacity to make financial campaign contributions: Viewpoint neutrality in this domain is, quite simply, requisite for a functional political process, no matter the targeted group.

Even still, this specific overreach is made even more offensive by the fact that the council has chosen to take a jab at an issue as important as development which threatens to exacerbate a housing shortage in a city that cannot afford it.

Housing scarcity is one of our city’s most devastating problems. It’s a source of deprivation and anguish to many. And it is a problem that is fueled, or sometimes even caused, by restrictive zoning and reflexive opposition to development. In throwing daggers at development, then, the council’s resolution has taken a potentially harmful political stance.

We are a pro-housing board. In Cambridge, that means a thoughtful openness to development. It means open discussion, and it means electing, and perhaps contributing financially to, candidates who devote themselves to enabling sustainable development in a city that can make such processes very difficult. It emphatically does not mean overturning long-standing principles in an effort to artificially tip the scales of the political process.

This proposal is wrong both in practice and in principle, and we hope that the Cambridge City Council will abandon its pursuit. Cambridge does not need this proposal developed into law.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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