Cohn wants to freeze money for opponent’s campaign

Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn says clean election money could be used for cops.

Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn says clean election money could be used for cops.

As I mentioned last week, city council candidate Shawn Eldredge is only the second candidate in city history to try and use any of Sacramento’s $300,000 public-financing kitty to fund a local election campaign.

The money is intended to promote more competitive elections and somewhat level the playing field between incumbents and potential challengers.

But it hasn’t worked very well so far, and it won’t if Eldredge’s opponent, incumbent City Councilman Steve Cohn, has his way. Cohn wants to take the public-financing program away, at least for now, and put that $300,000 back into the general fund, to help the city dig its way out of a $40 million budget deficit.

“We should put a freeze on that immediately,” Cohn said at a city budget meeting earlier this month. “We have plenty of people running for office. We should put a freeze on that and put it towards deficit reductions.”

Eldredge’s response: “It is shocking to me that Cohn would sacrifice public campaign financing, especially since he was involved in the creation of the program,” he said in a written statement.

“It is truly one of the City of Sacramento’s most progressive programs, designed to foster and encourage more and better democracy.”

According to recent campaign-finance reports, Cohn has raised $50,000 in his bid to hang on to his District 3 council seat. So far, Eldredge has just $2,275, but he could qualify for up to $25,000 in public matching funds. A third contender, real-estate agent Chris Little, has raised about $12,000 in small contributions.

The public-financing kitty survived a similar freeze bid by Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy last year. Coincidentally, Sheedy is the only other council member to face an opponent who took advantage of the program.

Cohn says that when he asked for the freeze, he was not aware that Eldredge had applied for the money, and that city council races seem to be more competitive in 2010 than in previous years.

“We can debate whether we should continue [the program] as a long-term policy. Right now we’re in a fiscal emergency,” Cohn told SN&R. The money is about the same amount that the city spent last year on new cat cages at the city animal shelter, or about what it would take to put new traffic lights up at one intersection. Cohn sees it differently, “That’s three cops, or five or six maintenance jobs,” he said.

Compiled from Snog.