Really, I mean it.
Even as Voter Owned Elections is changing the face of campaign finance in Portland, making elections more open, fair and accountable, Emilie appears to be single-handedly seeking every potential weakness in the system – and VOE will be stronger for it. Better to get it over with in the first cycle than drag it out! Of course, the allegations against Emilie’s campaign, if true, are already violations of VOE as written, the trick is to make sure the system catches them effectively and efficiently.
I was a member of the panel that helped critique the design of the system before it was adopted by City Council. I became a fan of public financing for elections when I researched the issue for City Club back in 2000 (PDF, 76K). Like thousands of other citizens in a grassroots effort, I encouraged City Council to adopt this important reform. We knew the system would not be perfect, that’s why a Citizens Campaign Commission was established to monitor the system and recommend changes to Council. So what have I learned from the experience to date? Here are some suggestions for things the Citizens Commission should look at:
- Re-examine the balance between verifiability and inclusiveness – In not requiring that qualifying contributions be from registered voters, we hoped to involve more citizens of the city, but we also wanted to keep administration simple. Validating voter signatures will require that the City contract with the County, which maintains these records. The Citizens Campaign Commission should carefully weigh the experience of this cycle and decide whether better administrative processes can make this work, or if we need to switch to only allowing registered voters to provide qualifying contributions.
- Consider better verification of payment. This is another question the Citizens Campaign Commission should look at carefully. Requiring all contributions to be via check (disallowing cash) is certainly more verifiable, but it will also raise the bar for candidates to qualify. This should be balanced with other verification methods (including restricting contributions to registered voters).
- Pay attention to administrative rules making processes! I certainly wish I had reviewed the checklist created by the Auditor’s office for verifying the qualifying contributions. It would have been apparent that more controls were needed to look for duplicate signatures, etc.
- Allow more people to challenge certification. Currently the system only allows an opposing candidate to challenge a decision by the Auditor to certify a candidate. It’s apparent to me now that opposing candidates may be reluctant to do so for very rational political reasons. Since public money is involved, any resident of the city should have standing to file an appeal.
Keen-eyed readers will note that the list above includes no lessons about how candidates spend their money. In fact, that portion of the code received an intense amount of scrutiny before adoption, especially from the City Council members asked to vote for it. I am very confident that we will find the provisions on use of funds will stand the test in this cycle.
Thank you, Emilie.