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Local campaign contribution limits to rise ahead of November election

Friday, July 29, 2022 by Emma Freer

Inflation isn’t only driving up mortgage interest rates, gas prices and the city’s living wage. It’s also behind proposed increases to the city’s campaign contribution limits, which cap how much money City Council candidates can accept from individual and out-of-town donors. 

The campaign contribution limits are tied to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index and are adjusted each year as part of the city’s budget process, Assistant City Attorney Caroline Webster told the Ethics Review Commission Wednesday

The following increases are expected to take effect when Council approves the 2022-23 budget in mid-August: 

  • Individual contributors, excluding the candidate and small-donor political committees, may contribute a maximum of $450 per election, up from $400.
  • Candidates and their campaign committees may accept a maximum of $44,000 in aggregate contributions from non-Austin voters per regular election, up from $41,000. For runoff elections, they may accept a maximum of $30,000, up from $27,000.

The Consumer Price Index, which is based on prices for consumer goods and services in urban areas, increased 9.1 percent between June 2021 and June 2022, the largest year-over-year increase in more than 40 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

The new campaign contribution limits will take effect during the fundraising period for the November 2022 election, which began on Nov. 8, 2021. Candidates for mayor and five Council seats will be on the ballot. 

Looking at the mayoral race, seven people have declared their candidacy so far, four of whom have raised money, according to the first batch of campaign finance reports. Former Austin mayor and state Sen. Kirk Watson leads the pack, with $997,464.89 in contributions as of July 15. Former state Rep. Celia Israel reported raising $253,305.90. Conservative challenger Jennifer Virden reported $84,506.54, and Phil Brual, a 21-year-old University of Texas student, reported $250.

The city last increased the individual contribution limit in 2019, from $350 to $400.

Inflation’s impact at City Hall extends beyond campaign contribution limits. Council members voted in June to direct staff to raise the living wage from $15 per hour to $22 per hour for all city employees starting in October. 

District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison supported the resolution.

“It’s kind of crazy to think that a living wage in this city is $22 per hour, but that’s just the age that we live in,” she said at the June 16 meeting. “Inflation, housing costs, child care, rising gas prices – it’s all making it harder for our workers and families to live in the city of Austin.”

The Austin Police Association also has proposed raises of up to 20 percent over four years as part of its ongoing labor contract negotiation with the city, citing the police department’s long-standing staffing challenges as well as the rising cost of living.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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