Testing Portland’s New Reform

Charlie Burr

There’s no such thing as an election system immune from attempts at fraud. So sad though it is, it’s not especially surprising that some would try to circumvent the rules of Portland’s Voter Owned Elections in its inaugural primary.

But who’s responsible for Boyles’ likely fraudulent petitions?

The Boyles campaign* – or more precisely, Vladimir Golovan, campaign “fundraiser.” Personally, I suspect that the well-meaning Boyles was taken advantage of in this case -- but that doesn't mean the VOE funds shouldn't be returned.*

The organizations that first lobbied the city for this reform -- like the League of Women Voters and Oregon Action -- are the ones calling for a swift investigation into these serious questions. But this should be put in context: from Arizona to Maine, Voter-Owned Elections are already reducing the costs of elections and leveling the playing field for true grassroots involvement.

That doesn’t mean there haven’t challenges along the way.

In Arizona for example, candidates who’ve violated the rules have been removed from office. And as Kari noted on other post, “A no-fraud system doesn't exist. Rather, it's a system that correctly nails the fraud that we're after. So far, this one looks to be working. And "working" includes the media -- that's why public disclosure exists.”

You don’t have to search too far back to find problems with the old system. Dan Doyle just finished a prison term resulting from his personal use of campaign funds. Ginny Burdick’s double dipping mileage reimbursement was exposed by the Oregonian just last month. And in the 2004 Mayoral contest, the revelation that developer Tom Moyer was funneling money to the Francesconi campaign in his secretary’s name proved an important campaign turning point.

Our new system is more important than any one person or campaign. The Voter-Owned approach can lead to truly fair elections with genuine opportunity for diverse candidates. It would be a mistake to throw out the entire reform because of the behavior of one bad actor* -- especially since this investigation has just begun.

Discuss.

*Again, if fraud exists -- which strongly appears to be the case.

Comments

  • (Show?)

    Charlie,

    I don't think that anyone would expect a new financing system to be fraud free, but the current version just begs for fraud. Since there is no paper trail on the $5 contributions it virtually ensures that this aspect will be violated. The tradeoff between the amount of money that must be raised in small contributions vs. the amount the city provides almost guaranteed that someone like Golovan would make the instant conclusion that for a small investment he can get paid back many times.

    When vote by mail was created I believe that there was much more thought about how to control and audit the system to minimize and catch fraud. I just don't think this system meets that test. Supporters ought to rethink the system and demand the changes fast. For example, there is no excuse for not requiring signatures to be from registered voters so that the signatures can be checked against their signature on file. Second, cash contributions should require some kind of additional requirement, like a second witness. If all of this is deemed too cumbersome, then the number of signatures could be reduced somewhat to compensate. We are all afraid of voting machines without a paper trail. Why should we accept a system that provides major city funds with no paper trail?

  • (Show?)

    I think requiring contributions only in check or cashier's check form is a reasonable and easy administrative rule change to make. The old system of contributions has no requirement for donors to be registered to vote either, but as our new system is something of a hybrid between a financial contribution and petition signature, such a requirement could be revisited. My understanding of the reasoning behind relying on solely a residency requirement was that as under-served, under-represented communities became more involved, these new campaigns would be bringing people into the process not likely to be previously registered.

    The violations alleged here are covered specifically under the rules of the existing system. Still, one of the functions of the citizens campaign committee -- intentionally built into this reform for this purpose -- is to recommend improvements and additional safeguards moving forward. I supported Vote by Mail, and remember clearly fears of unchecked fraud. But to be clear: this alleged fraud is not going unchecked, and it was always assumed that there would be changes and improvements to the system during the early stages.

  • Anne Dufay (unverified)
    (Show?)

    When my husband I first decided to combine households he told me the biggest challenge I would face in making this blended family work -- were the ladies of my street.

    A tough crowd, indeed.

    Many years later I was at one of my now dear neighbor ladies' houses for a "Candle Party". (oh don't get Frank started!) I took along "Amanda Fritz for City Council" signature forms and at the end of the party asked for sigs and $5.00. I talked a lot about Amanda, what she would bring to the council, and why I was supporting her candidacy -- and, after a good talk with the group I got a lot of sigs and $5.00's.

    Then one woman said, oh, I know my husband would want to support her, but he's out of town on an extended trip, can't I just sign for him?"

    And another woman tried to slip me a $20.00. Underneath her sheet.

    It's way harder to get 1000 contributions than I ever guessed. I might have been tempted -- but like everyone collecting sigs and dollars for Amanda, I'd been personally trained by her in the rules and in the ethics and in the over-arching importance of all of the above...

    In the end, pressure to get sigs or whatever, it was easy to just say, "No. We have to do this right. The integrity of the entire system depends on it."

    Plus -- had I erred and let Amanda and the whole system down, I might have been dissolved right there on the spot into melting wax. "Aaahhggh" Nothing but a high-heeled red shoe left to tell my tale... :-)

    Really, that's how seriously Amanda led her sig gatherer's to take our role.

    Ok, so its true, we’re not in Kansas anymore. But, for me, a VOA supporter, the most important reason for an immediate, effective, legally/ethically-driven response to the possible violations of some VOA candidates, is that we understand and support that this system is designed to bring to the front of the pack, those who can.

    That’s exactly why there is such a high contribution requirement. To weed out those who can’t.

    Not those who can -- get money from big money. Not those who can– scam the system by other means.

    THAT IS NOT WHAT WE WANT OUT OF THIS!

    If it works right the system should cough up those who can – manage the taxpayer's resources responsibly, ethically, and seriously. Those who lose sleep worrying that they are doing everything right with the taxpayer’s money. Those who hire and sign on people with the same high ethics.

    And – good intentions aside, those who have the management skills to make good intentions a reality. Those who can build a team with operating ethics that clearly reflect their own, high expectations. And yet still, deliver the goods.

    It ain’t easy. It’s not supposed to be.

    BTW - I don’t want to be seen as pre-judging anyone. Given the “easy terms” of this ordinance, I can see how a well-meaning candidate could be sunk by just one less well-meaning signature gatherer. I think all the reforms – verifiable payment, registered voter, etc, are good, and should be pursued. In the meantime we need official, immediate action in this issue. Without an informed, legal outcome, there will be nothing good for anyone. Just a lot of gossip and innuendo.

  • (Show?)

    Anyone wondering what a VOA candidate is --versus VOE (Voter Owned Elections)-- it means Voter Owned Amanda.

    It's the truth.

    Part of what disgusts me so much about the obvious fraud of Vladimer...we worked, and Amanda worked, so hard to make sure everything was "right."

    If we --that is, the City, doesn't IMMEDIATELY launch an investigation into what is obvious fraud...then the success of VOE suffers for it. VOA, I predict, will do well regardless.

  • (Show?)

    Even if you think taxpayer financing of politicians' campaigns is a good thing (and most people don't), this is one of the worst-drafted pieces of junk legislation ever to come from Portland City Hall. And that says a lot.

    Can't wait to see how the lobbyist registration "system" "works."

  • Jack's Super-ego (unverified)
    (Show?)

    mania

    n

    1: an irrational but irresistible motive for a belief or action [syn: passion, cacoethes]

    2: a mood disorder; an affective disorder in which the victim tends to respond excessively and sometimes violently [syn: manic disorder]

    Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University

  • (Show?)

    Even if you think taxpayer financing of politicians' campaigns is a good thing (and most people don't)

    Just curious, Jack. What's the basis for making that assertion? Have you seen any polling on the issue in Portland? My recollection is that public financing at the state level passed in Multnomah County by around 25,000 votes in 2000. I'd also suggest that the failure of opponents to put the current system on the ballot despite spending a truckload of money on a per signature basis suggests that Portlanders are probably more supportive than you might think.

    Do you have any hard data that suggests otherwise?

  • (Show?)

    ...worst-drafted pieces of legislation This incident was a violation of the existing rules, as drafted. You could rewrite the rules, but the result would still be the same: inelligibility for VOE funds.

    What's needed here is for Gary Blackmer to not rest until all funds are recovered from the Boyles campaign.

    Can't wait to see how the lobbyist registration "system" "works." Maybe... It'll be an outrage! Opie's fault! Portland=Bad Bad Bad!

    What a cliffhanger.

  • (Show?)

    currently, when you donate to a campaign, you have to provide all kinds of information. candidates cover their butts by ensuring their contribution envelopes detail the info donors must provide. an easy solution since we're already buying the envelopes.

    carbonless-copy receipt books are pretty cheap; the city could contract to have these printed and would-be candidates could buy them at cost (to be offset by the contributions they receive). 10 books for 40 bucks: you can still collect cash but you have a paper trail. an ancient technology that works in millions of daily retail transactions.

    this is a true "baby with the bathwater" scenario. VOE is a great idea, unless we really think spending huge amounts of "private" money on buying votes is such a swell idea. Portland needs to identify the problems & fix them, and then we can expand the system to more cities, counties and the entire state. it's a system that can work, so let's make sure it does.

  • (Show?)

    the Oregonian decided to weigh in on this today by decreeing that there must be a vote on VOE. apparently one of their op-ed writers has decided that s/he can do a better job than Ginny Burdick and her company, who previously demonstrated that voters do not seem to want this vote. since few voters actually read the Oregonian's op-eds, no real harm done. but seeing the Big O shill for a failed PR company is almost comedic.

  • (Show?)

    You'll have to ignore Jack; he makes a habit out of saying things that aren't true. He claimed M37 was "very popular" in Portland; actually it failed in 2004, and there's no indication it's any more popular now than then. When that was pointed out to him, his response was to claim that M37 was one of the most popular OR initiatives ever. Also not true, by a long shot.

    So when he says things like "the vote on public financing would fail," the best thing to do would be to ignore it as completely unsupported nonsense. He has no idea.

    And I find it curious that everyone's already decided that Golovan committed fraud on behalf of Boyles. Based on what? I've not seen anyone substantively claim that Golovan's handwriting forms any of the signatures on her sheets. I agree that in several cases it does appear that the same person may have signed consecutive lines, but the handwriting doesn't appear to be the same from page to page.

    My best guess (and note I'm freely calling it a a guess) is that the head of household in some cases signed for multiple members--usually the husband signing for the wife, I'd wager.

    Is that a violation? Yes. Should Boyles lose her financing? Quite possibly. Would anyone in control of their senses call the scenario I describe, acts of "fraud?" I doubt it.

  • (Show?)

    You're right, guys. There's no fraud. Everything's fine.

    If you think the public wants this, make it a voluntary contribution system -- a property tax checkoff. You'll find that, as with the federal income tax presidential checkoff, 90% of the taxpayers don't want to participate.

    [Gratuitous ad hominem comment deleted - Editor]

  • (Show?)

    A checkoff on what, Jack? I don't send in anything for property tax; it's done by escrow accounting. And why force a public fundraising bureaucracy on it, when you have no evidence that the status quo isn't just fine with people?

    Jack Bog, busted again for being poorly educated on the facts, opting to attack and try to "out" the messenger....sad.

    Unless you have evidence that signatures were deliberately forged in order to skirt campaign finance laws, I've seen no sustainable claims of fraud so far. Of course, that kind of niggling detail tends to fly under your radar, it seems.

  • (Show?)

    Jack wrote: Everything's fine.

    I don't know of anyone who thinks "everything's fine." I guess I'll just cut & paste from the original piece:

    The organizations that first lobbied the city for this reform -- like the League of Women Voters and Oregon Action -- are the ones calling for a swift investigation into these serious questions.

    Since 1970, the highest spending city candidate has won 87% of the time. And in 2004, 69% of all city campaign contributions came from only 7% of the donors – in checks for $1,000 or more.

    Simply put, there's too much money in politics. Voter-Owned may not be a silver bullet, but it does create a more even paying field for diverse group of candidates. It's easy to take shots from the sidelines -- but working for reform that gives everyday Portlanders genuine opportunity for political power is a fight worth having.

  • Jack's Ego (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I made that investigation happen. I am not being played for a fool.

  • sharon nasset (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Hello I would like to take this opportunity to thank every one for contacting the Oregonian regarding the first questionnaire printed as a fluff piece on a select few of all the candidates running for both City Council seats. Your support generated another questionnaire (see below) that more closely addressed what is going wrong in our town. I took the time to thoughtfully and completely respond to these questions, which made more sense than whether I drink beer or wine, and have yet to see them. I am sure the other candidates who have not received equal coverage feel as I do that it is time to see this in print. For a newspaper to cut out candidates based on monies raised or how well they are known, does not give Portland the opportunity to hear all the voices out there. As far as researching the candidates, to imply that I was not known enough to warrant coverage was ludicrous. I am well known for my work with the Columbia River Crossing Task Force regarding a third bridge over the Columbia. My community meetings regarding the controversial Lombard Plan drew over 100 concerned citizens to each meeting and resulted in a scale back of that plan. I have tirelessly worked to improve our local economy by fighting congestion and talking about how necessary family wage jobs are to keep our town functional. Please contact the Editor of the Oregonian. While this information may show up on line some day, not all our citizen's use the Internet for information regarding the candidates. Given the current climate of distrust the stories regarding the VOE is generating, Portland needs more alternatives to the status quo. The following are the numbers and people to call and email regarding equal press for all the candidates not just a select few. Susan Gage, editor email: [email protected] Peter Bhatia (her boss) phone: (503)221-8393

    Email This is Ryan Frank, reporter at The Oregonian. I'm writing to ask you to complete The Oregonian's candidate questionnaire for the 2006 primary election. Reporter Anna Griffin and I posed these same questions to the five major candidates profiled in the March 16 inPortland section. Please answer these questions to have your responses included in our coverage online.

    Some of you or your staff voiced concern that you weren't included to the same extent as others in our inPortland coverage. Given the large number of candidates for both council positions, we had to make tough choices about who to profile. We included incumbents and challengers with name recognition or who qualified for a taxpayer-funded campaign. We may expand the group later to include challengers who raise substantial money, tap a large number of donors or have strong showings at debates. If you have questions about any of that, please call me at 503-221-8564 or Anna at 503-294-5988.

    Thanks in advance for your answers. Please send us your answers by the by noon, Thursday, March 23.

    Ryan and Anna

    General ? Why do you want this job? ? What do you think are the three top issues for the city in the next four years?

    Development Issues ? Should the city continue to offer tax abatements for multi-unit housing in the urban core and urban renewal areas? ? Three central city urban-renewal districts expire in the next two years. Do you want to extend them? ? Do you support a city subsidy for a new hotel next to the Oregon Convention Center? If so, what should the subsidy be? ? The city has put a lot of attention and money into the Pearl and South Waterfront districts. Other neighborhoods haven't had the same success. Do you have any ideas on how to improve neglected parts of the city like Cully, Lents and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard? ? Should the city proceed with construction of the aerial tram? ? What should the city do about fire station 1? ? Business leaders say they're overtaxed. Do you agree? If so, how would you fix that? ? Do you have any concerns with the transit mall construction? ? What role should the City Council play in overseeing the Portland Development Commission? Should the current structure be changed? What do you see as PDC's chief mission?

    Budget/City priorities ? Do you support public campaign financing? Why or why not? ? Do you support the city's efforts to purchase PGE? Why or why not? ? Would you have voted for requirements that effectively removed Portland police officers from the Joint Terrorism Task force? Why or why not? ? What role should the city play in school funding? Would you support a citywide income tax? Would you support a cell phone tax? ? Should the city change its form of government? If so, to what? ? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is demanding that Portland take more steps to fight the parasite cryptosporidium. Should the city comply? Why or why not? ? Should the city's fire and police pension and disability system be restructured? ? Health care costs are the biggest contributor to the city's rising expenses at a time when revenues can't keep pace. How would you fix that? ? Do you support public subsidies for major league sports? How would you have responded to Paul Allen's representatives? ? Do you support continued use of city money to rent county jail beds? ? Do you support extending the parks levy when it expires in 2008? ? Is the mayor's "visioning" process a useful exercise or a waste of time?

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Ryan Frank, staff reporter The Oregonian City Hall news bureau Work: 503-221-8564

    1320 S.W. Broadway Portland, OR 97201
    Fax: 503-294-5023

connect with blueoregon