We’re almost there!
The drive to revive small donor elections in Portland is almost across the finish line, with the goal of amplifying the voice of everyday residents in campaigns for Portland mayor, city commissioner and Portland auditor.
With strong backing from AARP Oregon, the Portland City Council is set to vote next week for passage of the Open and Accountable Elections Act. The proposal received preliminary approval on Dec. 7.
It will give qualifying candidates for office the ability to match small donor contributions with public dollars to run their campaigns. In return, they to agree not to take any donation larger than $250, or donations from political groups or corporations.
The result? They’ll be able to run competitive campaigns against candidates who have lots of resources or access to wealthy donors. It will bring a wider array of candidates to the field, and it will empower small donors whose voices often aren’t heard amid those who have big resources.
It’s no secret that money talks in politics. And it takes a fair amount of money to run for office in Portland. Because of this, many people who want to serve are discouraged from running, and small donors believe that their $10 or $20 won’t amount to much against candidates who can garner $3,000 or $4,000 with a phone call.
AARP has been at the table in discussions to refine and improve this proposal since August. We’re in the game because our national policy calls for more financing of public elections, more civic engagement and more transparency in government. Candidates who agree to run under this program must make frequent campaign spending reports. They must only use the public funds for legitimate campaign expenses and they must return any unused funds to the public campaign fund.
More than 30 civic groups have backed Open and Accountable Elections. Along with AARP, the League of Women Voters, the Urban League, Main Street Alliance, the Latino Network, labor unions and the NAACP have worked to get this passed – and those are only some of the groups. Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who ran as a publicly financed candidate during the first time Portland had a program, was the chief sponsor of the new proposal. It has also received the backing of Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick.
The Portland proposal is closely modeled on New York City’s small donor campaign program, which has been in effect nearly 30 years. Over that time, it has increased the diversity of candidates for public office in New York and has greatly increased the number of donors to political campaigns and increased the geographic diversity of donations. Candidates who have participated say it has allowed them to spend time during campaigns listening to and talking to ordinary voters, instead of spending time just trying to get money from wealthy donors. It has also increased citizen participation in political campaigns.
It’s important to note that this program won’t increase anybody’s taxes – it’s being financed out of the city’s existing funds and total spending for the program is limited annually to 0.2 percent of the general fund. Only the first $50 of anybody’s donation will be matched with public funds.
AARP has a strong interest in good government, citizen engagement and government transparency. The Open and Accountable Elections Act nicely addresses our goals.
If you like this proposal, take a minute to write an email to Mayor Hales and Commissioners Fritz and Novick and tell them you support the Open and Accountable Elections Act and you ook forward to when it can be implemented to improve our city. You can find their email addresses on their Portland city websites.
Steve Carter is an AARP Oregon volunteer and former staff member of the Oregonian. He is also a former AARP Oregon executive council member and member of the Portland City Club.