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Chapel Hill OKs voter-owned elections

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Kevin Wolff paid for a political ad valued at nearly $1,400 to defeat voter-owned elections in Chapel Hill—and that campaign went much like his two unsuccessful bids for mayor.

Chapel Hill Town Council members voted 8-1 in favor of a pilot program for publicly financed elections at Monday night's meeting, a day after Wolff's half-page screed appeared in The Chapel Hill News.

Councilman Matt Czajkowski, a Wolff ally who spoke against the program during a May public hearing, was the sole dissenting vote. He proposed holding a public referendum on the program, which would require permission from the state legislature.

The legislature already authorized Chapel Hill to launch the voluntary program during the 2009 and 2011 municipal election cycles, the first municipality in the state to do so. Estimated cost of the program is $25,000, which will come from the town's general fund.

The purpose of voter-owned elections is to even the playing field for less wealthy candidates. Town council and mayoral candidates opting into the system must qualify for the program by raising money from a minimum number of Chapel Hill residents who are eligible to vote. In return for adhering to contribution limits, participating council candidates will receive $3,000 in public grants; $9,000 will go to those running for mayor.

There are additional campaign finance reporting requirements for all candidates. (Read the ordinance, PDF, 134 KB, and a memorandum from the Council Committee, PDF, 117 KB.)

In the ad, Wolff, a Republican, invoked U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy as "a fine American" who paid for his own political campaign and does not draw a congressional salary. Kennedy doesn't need to: His minimum net worth is estimated at $43 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Wolff also alleged that elected officials "are trying to ram" the proposal through the approval process. However, there has been little criticism of the program during the public hearings. Last month, only Wolff and one other citizen publicly opposed it.

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