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Houston City Council Set To Vote On Changes To Campaign Finance Ordinance

Some worry the new rules would give an even bigger advantage to incumbents and wealthier candidates.


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Until now, candidates for city offices could collect $5,000 from individual donors and $10,000 from political action committees for their election every two years.

But last fall, Houstonians voted to extend terms for mayor, city council and controller to four years, so the council is now looking to adjust the campaign finance rules.

"It's the same rules but split up, a four-year term into two year," said Jack Christie, who chairs the council's budget committee. It came together last week to discuss the proposed ordinance.

But because terms are now four years, it would double the amount candidates can raise per election cycle.

Council member Michael Kubosh didn't like the idea of breaking it up into two fundraising cycles. He said most people don't decide to run four years before an election.

"I think it benefits those who have big contributors lists," he said. "And it works against those who don't."

Another concern is that it puts pressure on non-incumbent candidates to start campaigning early.

The ordinance would also raise the amount self-funded candidates can reimburse themselves.

For example, a candidate for a district city council position who loaned himself money would get up to $50,000 back from campaign contributions. Currently the maximum is $5,000.

Some worry this will give an advantage to wealthier candidates, who are able to self-finance their campaigns.

But Brandon Rottinghaus, political scientist at the University of Houston, said that doesn't have to be the case.

"If you are somebody who has less means but who has still the desire to be able to jump into the race, having the opportunity to be able to reimburse yourself for some early investment in your own campaign is probably something that will encourage people to self-fund," the professor said.

The council is set to vote on the ordinance on Wednesday.