They're Your Elections Now

In an anticlimactic decision last night, the Portland City Council voted 4-1 to approve public campaign financing.  The sole "no" vote came from Randy Leonard, who agrees with the plan in theory, but wants citizens to have a chance to vote on it first. b!X quotes some of the players in last night's decision:

"When I first heard about this idea last year, I have to admit I was skeptical. I've become convinced that it is a good idea and a wise use of public resources."  (Dan Saltzman)

"This is something that's worth trying, and then once people understand it they will keep it or reject it, and that will be their choice, ultimately." (Erik Sten)

"This will give people who don't have access to the big money [an] opportunity to compete side by side with incumbents." (Tom Potter)

You didn't get to weigh in with a vote, and the Oregonian, in a badly-worded poll, says 56% of you are agin' it.  Yet eighty percent of the City Council voted for it.  Is this a precedent-setting triumph of citizens over monied interests, or another unwanted boondoggle foisted on voters by the commies running the People's Republic?  If you had been sitting on the Council, how would you have voted?

Discuss.

Comments

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Congratulations to the city council! Rarely does an elected body put democracy and good government before its personal political interest [which is why our corrupt campaign system persists].

    Some experience with the system will allow citizens to make an informed decision in 2010. The system is, afterall, voluntary. If there is some scandalous outcome [unlikely in my opinion] someone will collect signatures to put it on the ballot before then, no doubt. When public campaign funding was on the Oregon ballot, groundless criticism lead to its defeat. A similar campaign against the CoP ordinance would likely be bankrolled by the same interests who now bankroll city council candidates.

  • J. Smalls (unverified)
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    Voters have always owned the elections.

    I would have voted no!

    Not doing anything because money is tight is unreasonable. For instance, you have to make long-term investments, no matter how much it seems to hurt at the time. But while teachers are getting laid off and they are talking about levying a tax on my cell phone, this seems like a poor time.

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    Remember, it's only one one-thousandth of the city budget.

  • panchopdx (unverified)
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    Remember, it's only one one-thousandth of the city budget.

    Is that a guarantee?

    If it runs over $1.3 million per year can the city turn to you to make up the difference?

  • RuthAlice Anderson (unverified)
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    The entire cost of Voter-Owned Elections can be made up by avoiding just one tax abatement awarded to developers in the Pearl or other up and coming district. Why do you think the most vocal opposition is coming from realtors and developers? Does anyone think their longing to be encouraged to continue to give thousands is altruistic?

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    Pancho... Let's say that it's wildly off - and is in fact, twice that cost. Then, it's two one-thousandths of the city budget.

    And for that low, low price - what do we get? Candidates and elected city commissioners who spend their time on policy matters, meeting with citizens, communicating with the public, etc. rather than raising money.

    Remember, to raise $200,000 in twelve months requires raising $16667 a month - or $548 a day. Every single day. No holidays. No weekends. Raising that kind of money requires a serious time investment. Nevermind the source of all that cash.

    With our dollars, the public can buy it's elected officials back.

  • ron ledbury (unverified)
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    I see a looming initiative campaign business on the horizon. All one needs to do now is include the cost of gathering signatures and advertising within the initiative itself. Public funding is now considered OK. Polling by the government, on its own, has long been considered an OK expenditure and the payment for signatures is just a slightly more verifiable poll so as to gage whether or not it is worth the cost of placing something on the ballot. Now, if any measure that includes the cost of the public poll would surely be considered justified if the public ultimately passes a measure for which that poll was taken.

    I do wonder if the conflict of interest and ethics rules for government officials and poll takers and initiative sponsors should be treated alike. If a public official can boost their own salary and pensions then surely an initiative sponsor can pay themselves for their own public service.

  • Jim Holman (unverified)
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    I think it's a good idea, but it's a good idea that should be submitted to the voters. Since it's an idea that is supposed to support democracy, let's let the demos decide if that's an aspect of democracy that they want to pay for.

  • Gonzo wants taxpayer $ (unverified)
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    Blah, blah, blah.

    The incumbents know this measure is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

    If they wanted a level playing field, the incumbents would take a six month leave of absence (without pay) during the general election campaign season. Or provide the general election challengers with twice as much campaign funding as the incumbents. How else to make up for all the carrot and stick advantage of holding the reins of power in your white knuckled fingers?

    If they are serious about improving the racial diversity of the City Council, why not ask any incumbent competing against a non-white challenger to simply withdraw from the race the day before the election: Candidate of Color wins!

    Come to think of it, Gonzo is 1/32 native american: Gonzo feels a Churchillian moment coming on!

  • Karla Bean (unverified)
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    The Portland City Council is to be commended for voting in the interest of their constituents. It is very hard to get incumbent state officials and representatives to endorse public campaign financing, and it usually takes an initiative from the people.

    These days, developers, the health industries, and other corporate interests are all too happy to finance campaigns because they know they'll profit from payback legislation giving away millions in taxpayer dollars through awarded contracts, subsidies, tax breaks and fee waivers. Then legislators will act like they don't know why there's no money in the budget for education and social programs.

    On the federal level, this is why anti-consumer bills are being passed by Dems and Reps, like the Frivolous Lawsuit bill that takes away consumer rights to sue for injuries due to faulty products, such as those pesky Firestone lawsuits. Another example is the Bankruptcy bill, which takes away the safety net that protects your basic assets if you are faced with insurmountable medical bills.

    Public campaign financing allows those elected to office to vote their conscience and for what is best for their constituents. Currently, legislators spend about 50% of their time "dialing for dollars" for their next campaign, and about 25% writing customised legislation for major contributors. So, public campaign financing also allows them to focus their time and energy on their voters, which is how it should be. It's really a win-win proposition.

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    Public campaign financing allows those elected to office to vote their conscience and for what is best for their constituents. Currently, legislators spend about 50% of their time "dialing for dollars" for their next campaign, and about 25% writing customised legislation for major contributors. So, public campaign financing also allows them to focus their time and energy on their voters...

    Yeah, yeah, yeah...and Tom Civileti writes about our "corrupt" finance system. Kari tells us this "only" costs $1.3 million, AND we talk about matching funds for big-spenders, but we don't really know THIS cost. If this really takes off as a concept, if we truly get a spurt of new grass-roots candidates...is the money there to support them, or are we going to have the independently financed candidates swamping them with big donor money, while the city backs off on its "promise" to level the playing field.

    The problem I have is this thing is it is all over the map. We're "getting big money" out of politics? Really? Anyone believe that this is all it takes? And all this talk about the corrupting influence...this is NOT what's been said. No, it's about the "perception" that there's "dirty" money, when, of course, we all know there isn't, my goodness, and is why we changed the name from "clean money" campaign.

    But, as in the discussion with my son last night --who supports the measure-- I said there's lot of idealistic people supporting this for idealistic reasons, and I need to acknowledge and respect that. What troubles me the most, though, is in making a major change like this in how we form representative government (if, indeed, it IS the profoundly meaningful change some people say it is) without a chance for the governed to have a say with a vote, especially when there's been a lot of people in the community saying they don't like this...that just strikes me as wrong. And the idea people can't "understand" this without seeing it in action strikes me as condescending. But I guess we'll just have to see what happens.

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    Oh come on, Frank... Let's do a little basic arithmetic.

    Elections are every two years. There's a primary and a general. Each election, three seats are up - either two council and a mayor, or two council and the auditor.

    $1.3 mil each year equals $2.6 mil each election cycle.

    In the non-mayoral year, let's say that all six candidates that make it out of the primary are participating in the system. That's six times $200k total, or $1.2 mil. That leaves $1.4 for the primary - at $150k each, that's 9.3 candidates in the primary.

    Do you really think we'll get three contested races - each drawing three competitive candidates in the primary?

    We should be so lucky!

    As far as the doomsday scenario - in which a bunch of big-money candidates swamp the system... that's why there's a dollar-for-dollar match. There's zero incentive for them to spend like that when their opponents just get matching dollars.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Frank Dufay,

    Having taken part in the campaign finance system, I insist it is corrupt and that there is dirty money involved.

  • Steve (unverified)
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    The excuse that it is only $1.3M doesn't wash especially since according to that poll the Don'tWants are 2 to 1 vs the Wants.

    I mean where do we stop, what if some Religious Right person gets in and decides to fund the BoyScouts/RightToLife/etc. for only $1M, does the small amount of money mean it is OK?

    It is not the amount of money, it is just the sense that the council (starchamber?) is afraid to actually let voters weigh in on this.

  • Steve (unverified)
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    "Having taken part in the campaign finance system, I insist it is corrupt and that there is dirty money involved."

    Since this measure is only CoP, which one of the 6 CoP offices are tainted/corrupt? Also, anyone can exempt themselves from this funding plan and throw their own $1M (a al Francesconi.)

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Look,

    We are talking about a poll on an issue about which few citizens know much. If there were an extended discussion in the media about publicly financed campaigns, as opposed to a lopsided campaign funded by a flood of developer money, I believe the voters of Portland would approve of the council's vote.

    Setting the referendum for 2010 will give the voters an actual history to compare to the claims of doom opponents will make. If Portland's system functions like the clean money systems in Maine and Arizona, that history will be positive.

    This, of course, is why the objections here based on hypothetical problems are silly. There are already operating publicly financed campaign systems, which have been successful and have not been plagued with catastrophic unintended consequences.

    Of course, data doesn't mean much to some folks.

    Public Campaign

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Steve,

    Can you get your mind around the concept of systemic corruption, as opposed to personal corruption?

    It does not matter if individual officeholders never change a vote in return for campaign contribution. The contributions and, therefore, the election victory, in most cases, goes to the candidate aligned with the moneyed interests.

    Comments like yours are one of the reasons that politicians are reluctant to talk about the need for CFR. If one suggests there is corruption, some folks conclude that politician must be corrupt. Politicians who claim there is no corruption, conversely, must be ethical.

    All that money coming from development interests must, therefore, mean that they are just a very publicly minded bunch of people. Bunk.

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    Frank,

    Nice posting. I'm with you. I support the idea of publicly financed elections so stopped raising objections to this proposal. But the arguments made in favor are riddled with holes.

    Oregon's elections are overwhelmingly clean, competitive, with high levels of citizen participation.

    I'm less concerned about referral than I am timing. JTTF ... The Tram ... Burnside Bridge crisis ... Publicly Financed Elections ... meanwhile we're losing businesses, families, schools are in crisis. I'm waiting for this new council to get all of it's pet projects out of the way and get onto the business of governing.

  • Steve (unverified)
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    OK, how does this affect systemic corruption, I believe in between campaigns they can still take all kinds of contributions, trips, etc. This only applies what they spend on during a campaign (4 months?) If they are prone to be influenced, there are so many ways for them to be influenced otherwise.

    In sum, the corruptible people will continue corrupted regardless of how many safeguards you put in.

    If you can please stop with the poor stupid voters being hoodwinked by big money diatribes and realize Mssrs Sten and company have had plenty of time to pitch this to the public and it still loses by 2 to 1. If they have the courage to place this on the ballot with their own title and prove this poll is wrong, fine.

  • Chris Bouneff (unverified)
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    I just love it when I read arguments that the public is too stupid to vote on this now because of blah, blah this and blah, blah that. Same argument that tort reformers use about curbing the power of citizens to serve as jurors in civil cases. The public is always stupid when it won't agree with one's favored concept.

    And I always love the use of stats. It's not $1.3 million; it's one one-thousandth of the city budget. Of course, it's not a tax on cell phones. It's a franchise fee. Got to make up that $6 million in lost city revenues, or whatever. But why bother? It's only six one-thousandth of the city budget. It won't make a difference.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Well, guys, I'm not sure how to cure your naivitee about campaigning. Ponder this, though: if voters always made wise decisions, why would anyone bother spending money on campaigning, especially multiples of what the opponents spend? Just to make noise and waste paper? I think not. Money buys elections. this is statistically demonstratable. You can believe otherwise, just as some can believe that the universe is 4000 years old and was created in 7 days.

  • Steve (unverified)
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    "Money buys elections."

    OK, explain Potter beating Francesconi.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Oh, god! Potter vs. Francesconi was ONE election. How many more can you list where the loser outspent the winner by a wide margin? Could I prove that winter is a warm season by noting a day in January when the high was 70 degrees?

    Since 1970, the highest spending candidate for city office has won 87 percent of the time

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    Oh come on, Frank... Let's do a little basic arithmetic.

    Cool. Let's DO the math, Kari. I LOVE math.

    In how many elections has ANY candidate, running for ANY office in the City, gotten 1000 separate contributors listed on their C&E? Know of ANY? Or is that a number <1? How high is the bar we've raised?

    Do you really think we'll get three contested races - each drawing three competitive candidates in the primary? We should be so lucky!

    Right. YOUR math tells us less = more. Less "dialing for dollars" means more listening to citizens. As though 1000 --or 1500-- $5 checks will drop from the sky...no "dialing for dollars" THERE. And we anticipate LESS --not more-- "competitive" candidates. The "budget" counts on it.

    As far as the doomsday scenario - in which a bunch of big-money candidates swamp the system... that's why there's a dollar-for-dollar match. There's zero incentive for them to spend like that when their opponents just get matching dollars.

    Now we're out of $1.3 million --excuse me, $2.6 million-- budget territory AGAIN, as though there's a bottomless well of money to draw on. There isn't. (Nor should there be.) So it may well be the big-money boys will out spend the under-funded "publicly financed" candidates once again, and the lesson learned will be...what?

    All that said...I hope this works. I hope I'm wrong. I hope some awesome new candidates --and elected officials-- come out of this experiment.

    But having already asked our citizens to tax themselves extra for a county income tax, for Parks and Children's levies...I think we needed to take this to the voters.

    Are we really listening to people out there? And do we have faith in our own citizens? Our unwillingness to put this on the ballot worries me that we aren't and we don't, whatever the merits of this proposal.

  • Steve (unverified)
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    OK, then let me counter with something else, what % of incumbents win elections? I think it is probably higher than the higher spenders. Maybe term limits is something we should address?

    I only mention Potter since he is part of the cabal that brought this campaign financing into effect.

  • Steve (unverified)
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    I forgot one other thing, what about this rule stops someone from spending more anyways? If they want to spend $2M (exempting himself) and the other candidates decide to limit their selves to $450K (or whatever the city decides to give them), you get the same results except we are misappropriating more public money.

    After a few years (like 2010) $1M+ campaigns will be standard and they will have to raise the taxpayers' contribution to this boondogle just to keep things "fair".

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Okay, so no one pays attention. What can I expect? This system is already in operation. None of the snafus predicted by opponents have materialized.

    <h2>BTW, incumbents are very likely to be reelected. They also are are very likely to outspend their opponents by a wide margin. That is why public financing is very rarely approved by legislatures, county commissions and city councils.</h2>
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