Money, Money, Money

Chris Smith

OK, I'll admit it, I stole the title from Anna Griffin, but it's right on.

The First Things First folks turned in their C&E paperwork for the signature gathering to repeal Portland's Voter Owned Elections system. Incredibly, they appear to have spent $350,000 ($200K in contributions, plus another $150K in oustanding accounts receivalble) to get 41,000 signatures.

The last big government structure initiative in 2002 (the one that got more signatures than votes in the end) got on the ballot for about $135K. So the folks who don't think we need a system to deal with big money in our elections have pretty much blown out any record for putting big money into a Portland initiative, and the campaign is just starting. There are not too many lines on that C&E report that are less than $1,000 (the average is $2,352). Indeed, there are only 84 donors...

The most money came from:

- Portland Business Alliance PAC, $32,000
- Don McIntire’s Taxpayers Association of Oregon, $10,625
- Oregon Restaurant Association, $10,625
- Gard and Gerber, $9,400
- PGE, $7,500
- Qwest, $7,500

The good folks at the Money in Politics Research Action Project tell me that the donors on this C&E gave over $500,000 in the 2004 City Council races.

Some people seem to be VERY afraid of losing their grip on City Hall.

If you'd like to help relax that grip, please head over to

  • marco (unverified)

    Disgusting. It's like they all sit in a room somewhere, four hours out of every day, and plot their dumbass and incredibly expensive schemes. Arglington club? MAC club? Oh, I guess they probably do.

    The tram to OHSU wouldn't have been built without these yoyos. I see Homer Williams ponied up.

    PGE Park? Peter Stott is on the list.

    Pioneer Square ice-skating rink? There's Greg Goodman

    Goldschmidt & Co. is in for 10,000+...the protection racket for OHSU, SAIF, PGE, etc.

    The Portland Business Alliance gave an incredible $32,000.

    Also, timber companies, Bush-Cheney mega-donors, fat cats like Joe Weston, GOP super-lobbyist Larry Campbell, Don McIntyre, and the Restaurant Association, which is pissed about the frigging minimum wage.

    The best thing that could happen to Oregon politics would be if this entire bunch just disappeared forever.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)

    Somebody ought to check the real sources of the money. Most of those groups don't have their own resources, they have to get them from members. The question is whether they raised the money specifically for this campaign, if they did they are essentially laundering campaign contributions. The Portland Business Alliance PAC, for instance, is a pass-through organization. They have to raise any money they spend from their members.

  • Alice (unverified)

    How much money did the Teacher's Union spend on the 2004 Oregon Legislative races?

    Would you agree their money has a corrosive influence on public policy too?

  • pdxdem (unverified)

    Hear is some wishful thinking. We could just outlaw conservatives from voting or donating money right.

    That would be an ideal world now wouldnt it.

  • (Show?)

    Alice--absolutely, 100%. However, I don't see teacher's union money doing any corroding on behalf of preserving the system, do you?

  • Sid Leader (unverified)

    Ol Donny Mac... Oregon's own Jack Abramhoff... without the money, the manse or the laughs.

  • (Show?)

    Update: here's the Oregonian coverage and the green eyeshade folks tell me that rechecking their numbers by the light of day, the ORA contribution is $10,500 not, $10,625.

  • (Show?)

    What's interesting to me is how much money they had to spend per signature (over $8.50). Is there a dearth of signature gathering companies that charge reasonable rates? Are they all scared off? Did they do it all via mail? Did the rain increase the costs (seriously)?

    The other question is: how much do they have for the campaign? If they're $150,000 in the hole, is that a shell game to lull the proponents of the system? Who's running the First Things First campaign, anyway?

  • LT (unverified)

    Alice: Who contributed more money in 2004--Oregon Education Assoc. (OEA) Oregon Restaurant Assoc. (ORA)?

    If you looked at the mastheads of bills in the 2005 session, which initials would you see more often--OEA or ORA?

    Did you know that the capital gains tax cut measure which would have paid for itself was left in committee while the capital gains tax cut bill that passed the House had Maj. Leader Wayne Scott and ORA in the masthead?

    Or is that OK as long as people like you can demonize the teachers union on a Blue Oregon topic about Portland's Voter Owned Elections system?

  • Andy (unverified)

    I'm suprised that Stoel Rives (which is one of the biggest contributors to the state ACLU and Portland's most prominent law firm) gave $2,500 with its managing partner Henry Hewitt chipping in another $500. Also, I'm a bit disappointed in Michael Powell. Oh well.

  • Betsy Wilson (unverified)

    Evan -- check out the C&Es. Laura Imeson, Gard and Gerber, Stoel Rives and Democracy Resources are all getting significant checks here. So it's not all signature gathering costs -- seems like maybe $5 a signature, plus legal fees, management, polling, etc.

  • (Show?)

    Andy, I counted Stoel with $3,500 all told, not counting Hewitt's money. (Note that this kind of multi-dipping is true for other groups as well: Gerding/Edlin and Melvin Mark are two more examples).

    But I'm not surprised that S/R gave up the love to FtF. They made over $20K off them in legal fees. Gard and Gerber's $9,400 looks generous, until you see that they've earned back about $70K in various capacities--since December.

    Not to whore myself out too shamelessly, but we go into some of this detail at Loaded Orygun, the new all-OR-politics blog from the people who brought you Also Also and Preemptive Karma.

    IMO, this is the line for VOE advocates to press as the campaign season starts: these big-money donors want to keep their hold on Portland politics. Do you want to let them?

  • (Show?)

    Betsy--if you assume that expenditures categorized as funds for "Petition Circulators" are directly related to signature gathering, I count payments to Democracy Resources, Inc. totalling almost $157,000. In addition, Gard and Gerber kicked in $12,500. So let's say roughly $170K just for getting signatures. For 41,000 signatures, that's a little over $4 per. Figure some will be thrown out, and your estimate of $5 a pop looks right on. Wow.

  • (Show?)

    I'd like to see the Portland politicians stress fiscal responsibility. Maybe then, we can properly fund PPSshools.

  • Don Smith (unverified)

    It's a shame that all these big-money interests are having such an influence on our local politics. It's a shame that the only thing we can come up with to combat this problem is politician welfare. It's a shame we don't simply hold people accountable. Rather than spend $1MM a year or more, it would be nice to think that we could have a council that couldn't give away our money so easily.

    Now, I don't pretend to have a silver bullet on how to do that except to say "Cheers" to BlueOregon and other blogs for continuing to stir the pot. If only we could get all of our citizens to be as informed as anyone reading this post (because by definition, you're more informed because you're here), we wouldn't need politician welfare.

    Anyone hail from an area of the country where politicians acted in the good of the city? Hmm, bummer. We could use an example....

  • (Show?)

    Don--examples? But of course:

    Perhaps the best evidence of the value of coalition efforts for election reform is in the legislative results that are beginning to appear in Arizona and Maine. In both states, legislators are discovering what it is like to no longer be dependent on private contributors for their campaigns. Arizona’s newly elected Governor Janet Napolitano boasts that on the very first day of her administration this January, she signed an executive order creating a discount prescription drug program. “If I had not run clean, I would surely have been paid visits by numerous campaign contributors representing pharmaceutical interests and the like, urging me either to shelve that idea or to create it in their image,” she said in a speech this spring. “All the while, they would be wielding the implied threat to yank their support and shop for an opponent in four years.” Maine has also made great strides in the health care arena, in large part because three-fourths of its Senate and half of its House ran clean. This spring, they passed legislation forcing the disclosure of secret deals between drug companies and middlemen, and pressuring those companies to be more open in their pricing policies. The state has also enacted a form of universal health coverage that will offer uninsured Mainers subsidized premiums based on their ability to pay. Funding for that program will come, in part, from a tax on insurance companies. Environmentalists also hailed the passage of a bill that makes Maine the first state to commit itself to clear goals to reduce its contribution to global warming, and another that aims to reduce mercury and lead pollution. All of these measures faced much tougher going in the days before clean elections.
  • Don Smith (unverified)


    That's a compelling argument for "Clean Money" elections, but the problem is that power doesn't simply come from campaign cash. Let's say Erik Sten takes the cash and wins reelection. Are we to assume that because he didn't get big donations this round that he's going to now change his governing style?

    Are we to assume that Dan Saltzman isn't going to continue to pursue big-ticket projects that greatly benefit one developer?

    Will Homer and Dike NOT take Potter and Hamilton to lunch to discuss how to get things done? Potter ran a "clean" election without public money (and praise be to that!). But he's still courted by local big interests.

    If we weren't increasing funds to the Percent for the Arts program, or giving away tax breaks to developers, or spending a quarter billion a year in urban renewal with dubious results, then maybe, just maybe, I could see "Clean Money" as a good thing. My objection is that it's taxpayer dollars. If we set up an endowment with private donations and had people give money to a fund for that voluntarily, I'd be all for it. But it's another $1MM a year out of our hides at a time when we're talking about a new tax.

    Politicians will always be for sale and power will always be able to buy them so long as there is something of value that politicians can give away. Take away the authority for Council to grant abatements, engage in construction projects that aren't bona fide infrastructure (Big Pipe=infrastructure - Streetcar=private endeavor), and grant massive contracts for services best provided by the private sector (why is Greg Goodman so pissed right now?), and you'll largely sovle the problem (and save lots of taxpayer dollars in the meantime).


  • Anne Dufay (unverified)

    Don writes>>>Politicians will always be for sale and power will always be able to buy them so long as there is something of value that politicians can give away. <<<<

    Change that to "SOME politicians will always be for sale...and power will always TRY to buy them..." and I'll agree with you. Where clean money may have an impact on this dynamic is at the front end -- where WHO chooses to become a politician happens. That's where the current culling takes place. Absent public financing, many potential candidates have to accept climbing into the belly of the fund-raising beast as the price, and point, of entry into politics. And many excellent potential public servants simply aren't willing to go there. We need these folks in politics.

    I too have concerns about using tax dollars for this. But I haven't seen any sign of anyone seriously trying to set up any "endowment" fund. And, I don't expect to... So I'm willing to work with what's real - what we DO have, and give the people who worked so hard to bring this program to reality -- the chance to show me.

  • (Show?)

    I'm with Anne on this one, and I'd add that I don't believe that these current city gummint guys are corrupt.

    I do believe that we all have biases that we either do or don't or sorta recognize.

    Taking all of that danged money out of the mix takes a ton of pressure off of these folks.

    Anything at all that undermines the idea that corporations are people when it's to their advantage, but not when they are being held accountable for criminal behavior, is a good idea.



    I'm with you on the NEA play too. Email me when you kick off your state wide campaign for publicly financed elections, and I'll be there. So will a whole bunch of other Blue Oregonians.

  • k (unverified)

    I'm a little confused as to why all these guys are donating to end voter-owned elections. It's not as if any of them like the current council. These people don't support Randy Leonard's shake down for the unions, they don't support Sten's grab for PGE, they didn't support Adam's or Potter's election and I'm not sure they're overly fond of Saltzman's decisions either.

    Exactly what do they have to gain by ending voter-owned elections? Their dollars haven't done a great job of electing pro-business, tax-sensitive candidates so far and I imagine they won't in the future.

    Voter-owned elections won't stop them from buying off current candidates but V-O E could save them a substantial amount of money in future elections. Rather than wasting dollars to get someone like Francesconi elected (failure), they can save their money for the candidate who DOES get elected. In the past, they paid upfront for no guarantees AND then had to pay after the election when their candidate didn't win. With V-O E, they can just pay after. Woohoo, sounds like extra money for a vacation to me!

  • Alice (unverified)

    The fear of VOE is that it may produce more "collectivist" candidates that will push the existing council to the left. Heaven forbid if one or two of them get elected: another Socialist on the City Council is the last thing we need.

    Progressive City Income Tax rates, a doubling or tripling of water/sewer rates, higher bidness and development fees, maybe even a City "gas guzzler" tax, or more relaxed enforcement of drug laws.

  • Misty (unverified)

    Since I am running a campaign for one VOE candidate hopeful my opinion is definately biased I will admit. Without this system however Lucinda Tate would not and could not run. If you know anything about Lucinda you would agree she is the poster child for who this law is supposed to help. She is a woman, a minority, and holds down a working class job serving disinfranchised people living paycheck to paycheck. Not usually the type of person you see in major races in Portland politics.

    She would not run without it because in her own words she would rather be beholding to the average citizen that gave her a $5 donation then chase down big donations from individuals or organizations that she, if elected, would be working hard to reduce their influence.

    I agree with many posters that have said let the system run, at least for one cycle, to see how it actually works and not destroy it on assumptions.

    Want candidates that run on issues and not platitudes? Support VOE. Want candidates that spend their time talking to citizens rather then at fancy lunches with "big money"? Support VOE. Want to see for yourself the difference? Come read Lucinda's Blog Common Sense and ask yourself, when is the last time a candidate has said anything so concrete before being elected.

  • john (unverified)

    Anyone read the InPortland article about Don Smith? Why didn't the VOE set a higher barrier, say $25? Why not $10,000? $20,000? How did we choose $5 x 1000 as our indication of "sufficient public support to merit public financing"?

    Is a $5 donation from 1000 people really illustrative of anything, especially when you can pay people to raise the money?


    That article was written by the senior analyst for a national group advocating for publicly financed elections.


    I read the blog. What content is there? A defense of clean elections and a regurgitated presentation of PDC critiques. I'm sure she'll present some actual policy proposals, but right now, it seems like the clean elections candidates simply have their own anti-establishment platitudes.

  • Oscar (unverified)

    Yo k-

    Have you been tracking what's really going on in Portland? Aren't we on track to spend upwards of $55 million on the Tram (and really friends that's where the subsidy starts in South Waterfront), didn't this City Council sign a blank check for Mr. Gerding's playhouse, aren't our city fathers now contemplating plopping down $40 million or so for spiffy new convention center hotel?

    And, one more thing, this notion that you can buy influence with politicians ex post facto...puff, puff, pass k man.

  • (Show?)


    so far, 1,000 $5 contributions is proving to be a plenty tough bar to set. Ask Amanda Fritz how difficult it was, even with a fairly big team of helpers--and she's the only one who's made it so far. I think it's illustrative of a significant and serious effort to become a candidate, rather than an Extremo the Clown diversion. And it's illustrative of support from about 1% of the number of voters for the last Mayoral race.

    I'm aware who wrote the piece I cited. You must have written your rebuttals on the points raised in white-colored text--because I didn't see it.

    Misty--how close is Lucinda to her goal? Do you think she'll make it?

    Alice--WHOSE fear of VOE is that? I gotta admit, "Stop the red tide; repeal VOE" is a pretty catch slogan, but I haven't seen FtF (or anyone) use it yet.

  • (Show?)

    Alice writes:

    The fear of VOE is that it may produce more "collectivist" candidates that will push the existing council to the left.

    Thanks for your honesty Alice. The money guys will never be so candid. The rule of thumb in politics, like law, is who benefits?

    You can be pretty sure that the people that perpetuate the current system that puts huge amounts of money from a very few donors into the hands of candidates and incumbents; are the people that have the most to lose when you take the batteries out of their bullhorn and allow the smaller voices to be heard.

    We all give lip service to the idea of democracy, and if Portland is a fortress of the Left in Oregon, you'd expect the elected officials to reflect that.

    If the issues like the Water Bureau and the Exploding Cable Car to Pill Hill are being handled poorly, Portland voters are just as likely to get rid of poor administrators with VOE as without it.

    In fact, if the Portland Business Alliance and PGE and Stoel Rives are concerned about what their Glorious Leader calls malfeance why, think of all of the extra money that they'll have to get the word out now that they are relieved of the burden of paying for candidates all by themselves.........

    Unless, of course, they're just a bunch of wealthy sleazebags that are fearful of losing the huge advantage that they have in influencing policy..........Nah........Don't wanna be cynical here.

  • (Show?)

    John, the $5 amount was specifically set low enough that almost ANYONE can afford it. The idea is to empower everyone equally to support candidates, rather than having folks with more bucks have more ability to support contenders.

    It's the ACT of contributing that's the hurdle, not the amount. And I think the current approach, requiring address and affidavit of residency in Portland adds the appropriate level of 'friction' to the process so that you have to work at it.

  • Don Smith (unverified)

    Anne and Pat:

    Yes, you're right. I try to avoid hyperbole, but sometimes it slips out. And Pat, I agree with you that our politicians aren't being bought and sold in the way the cynical side of us portrays. My point, though, is that the more a politician can pick winners over losers (we're going to buy this piece of property through eminent domain proceedings and sell it to this developer who has a plan that we like better), the more the rich and powerful will court those politicians.

    Human nature is such that people will seek to capitalize on opportunity. I think that's fine. I largely believe in the Virtue of Selfishness. However, when the threat of force (government) can be used by the powerful to take advantage of the powerless (see, Kelo v. New London), you can bet the powerful will attempt to use that power (see Neil Goldschmidt).

    VOE doesn't address the cause of corruption, and I am skeptical of its ability to affect the front end, as Anne suggests. Powerful groups are not prevented even under VOE from exerting influence over the process. In my race against Dan Saltzman, it is already known that the unions will be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to unseat him. They can't advocate FOR a candidate, but they can sure spend money to defeat one.

    Dan can't even fight back, since by doing so, he'll just wind up giving me more money to promote my candidacy. I think that's horrible public policy, but I'm still going to run hard.

    Alice's comment is well made, too, that the business community fears that more collectivist candidates will pull the council further left and therefore hurt their interests even more. Could they say that? I don't know, maybe they could be honest about it. But the fact remains that VOE was implemented without asking the voters and is likely NOT to have the expected impact on our government in a time when we are so desperate for cash in the city that we are going to ask the voters to authorize the City Council to tax our income.

    It may be temporary and "for the children" now, but you just wait until 2010 when there are a whole slew of new "needs" and the rate goes to 2.5% "for the children and the poor and the elderly and Homer Williams." Well, maybe they won't mention Homer....

  • (Show?)

    When Don says VOE is likely not to have the expected impact, I wonder what makes Portland different from Maine, Arizona, and other places where it had EXACTLY the expected impact: more candidates, more diverse candidate pools, more candidates eschewing unlimited private financing of campaigns.

  • Don Smith (unverified)

    Of course more candidates will eschew private donations. That's because if they don't do so, they'll be labeled stooges for big money. Besides, it's easier to qualify than to raise gobs of cash the old-fashioned way, so why not?

    Will it lead to more diverse pools? Granted, that will happen. That's a good thing. In fact, if you review my posts, you'll find that I'm not against the concept of an election pool of funds. I just don't agree that it should come out of the City's overhead (read, your pocket).

    By taking taxpayer dollars and giving them to politicians, you have several problems. First, unless a politician does something to upset a major power group, the incumbent will still win most of the races due to the advantage of name recognition. If you limit the spending activity of non-incumbents to that of what the incumbent spends, the incumbent will more often than not win the race.

    527-style groups can still spend unlimited amounts in support of "their guy" or "their gal" by attacking the other candidate(s).

    I'm skeptical of reports that races are more competitive and have more diversity. I'd like to see a study on it. I couldn't find one through a few Google searches, so please point me to one. Our races in Portland have always had diversity. The media just ignores the candidates THEY don't view as "viable." That won't changed with VOE. If all raaces are VOE, there will be candidates, mark my words, who qualify for the funds and STILL get dissed by the media. $150K is a good chunk of change, but you still need earned media to be viewed by the public as a respectable force.

    I'm not totally down on the idea, but I'm skeptical that's it's an effective step, especially in this budget environment. If we had pushed for it in the 90's, maybe it would have been a different story.

  • (Show?)

    However, when the threat of force (government) can be used by the powerful to take advantage of the powerless (see, Kelo v. New London), you can bet the powerful will attempt to use that power (see Neil Goldschmidt).

    Just a sidebar on this one Don. The idea of using eminent domain to facilitate the enrichment of private developers is a gross perversion of law in my opinion. There are a bunch of pissed off libertarians that have mounted a campaign to condemn Souter's house and put up a bed and breakfast there, all for the good of the greater community of course.

connect with blueoregon