Why Voter Owned Elections Still Matter, Take 2

By Amanda Fritz of Portland, Oregon. Amanda Fritz is running for Portland City Council for the seat currently held by Dan Saltzman, and is a voter-owned candidate.

[Author's Note: Thursday's posting on Blue Oregon of my OpEd rejected by The Oregonian was the result of mild mistakes by well-intentioned people outside of my campaign. The following is the made-for-Blue-Oregon piece I intended to submit as my Guest Column.]

OK, I have a vested interest. I was the first candidate to qualify for public financing of my campaign seeking election to Portland's City Council, and I'm currently the only non-incumbent still certified to use the system. If I weren't a Voter Owned Elections (VOE) candidate, I wouldn't have raised anything like $150,000 and wouldn't have a very real chance of winning against an affluent incumbent. Money can't buy happiness, but it does buy staff, phone lines, yard signs, radio and print ads, and suchlike. And those are factors that help someone who isn't a career politician reach voters looking for an alternative to the incumbent, and wanting to know which of the six other names on the ballot represents the best choice for change.

But beyond the value to me, Al Franken, Amanda Fritz, VOE still matters, Emilie Boyles notwithstanding. Here's why.

Fritzdonors

This is a map showing where the 1045 people who donated to my campaign live. Note not one is outside Portland. And note that I said "people". No corporations, businesses, or unions donated to my campaign. I collected donations in 90 of the city's 95 neighborhoods, without setting out to do so.

Saltzmandonors

This is a map of where Dan Saltzman's campaign contributions came from. About 50 are from outside Portland, and all the black arrows show out-of-state contributions -- from as far away as Missouri and Massachusetts. Saltzman is "limiting" his contributions to $500 per contributor, but that can be $500 from one family member, $500 from another, and $500 from each of three businesses owned by the family.

See a difference in the maps?

The number one problem facing our city, state, and nation isn't our tax structure. It isn't school funding, or infrastructure, or poverty, or the war in Iraq. The fundamental problem today is that citizens don't feel they can trust their government. They don't believe the government is working for them, and they don't believe the government belongs to ordinary citizens. That's why we weren't able to put a local option school funding measure on the ballot in Portland this election. It's why Measure 37 passed.... "government shall pay". And it's why many citizens won't engage in dialogue about important issues -- they don't believe their input matters, if the decisions have already been made in closed-door meetings they don't have access to.

This is why the maps above matter, why VOE is worth the cost to taxpayers, and why it is not just for "women and minorities" as Saltzman keeps saying in debates. Regardless of the high integrity of current Council members, citizens should not have to wonder whether Council votes for construction projects are the result of downtown development interests having paid for most incumbents' elections. In the United States, many believe "you get what you pay for" is not only real, but a valued principle. Why would election campaign funding be different?

People who live in the city, whether they are voters or not, should have confidence that the most important factors in getting elected are having good skills and a worthy record of service to Portland, not affluent friends with fat checkbooks. Portlanders should be 100% sure that their city government is not influenced by campaign contributions. That isn't possible with traditional campaign funding, with huge donations coming from a few people and from outside our city and state. That's why supporting a system that gives voters the power, and all stakeholders share the costs, is absolutely the best way for Portland.

As a Certified Campaign Finance Fund candidate, I take personal responsibility for the content of this posting ~ Amanda Fritz, RN, MA

Comments

  • Aaron V. (unverified)
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    I also note the contrast in where in Portland the campaign contributions came from.

    Fritz's contributions come from all over the city, and while some neighborhoods like Lents have few contributors, it's spread out over the entire city.

    Saltzman's contribution map shows lots of downtown Portland, and very few from the Eastside. I wonder....could they be large businesses and downtown power brokers?

  • Robert Ted Hinds (unverified)
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    Firstly... Amanda Fritz for City Council! As an RN (and highly educated one at that) she offers city government what it needs--diversity of background and independence from the political machinery of Portland.

    Second... She is right that citizens no longer trust their government, but it is not so simple as that. The tax structure IS a problem, but Portland hasn't had to really come to grips with it, because since the passage of Measure 5, the economy has experienced an extraordinary period of growth. The downturn in 2000-2002 was but a blip compared to the recessions of 1973-75 and 1980-83. Once property values flatten and interest rates rise (as U.S. foreign policy largesse will ensure they do) the day of reckoning will come.

  • Steve (unverified)
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    How do I get one of those maps for Erik's campaign? Why do I get the feeling it would look a lot like Saltzman's even though he is the VoE guy?

  • Max (unverified)
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    I'd like to know how this became "Voter-Owned Elections" when voters never got a say in the implementation.

    Just because you call it something it isn't, doesn't make it reality.

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    Actually, the term "Voter Owned Elections" replaced "Clean Money Campaign" when Commissioner Saltzman objected to the suggestion that all the money he took from the development community was somehow "dirty." So "Clean Money" was out, "Voter Owned" in, and thus the ordinance won Saltzman's vote.

    I strongly support the notion of taking the corrupting influence of money out of our elections. I strongly support Amanda's campaign.

    But I also think we hurt the credibility of the now "Voter Owned Elections" without first putting this to a vote of the people.

  • Amanda Fritz (unverified)
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    Steve, my volunteers assembled these maps. Campaign contributions are public record, so anyone with access to the Office of Neighborhood Involvement website (for the map), portlandmaps.com (to check the neighborhood of each address), $10-worth of sticky dots, and a lot of time and effort, could put Erik's together. Might be interesting to check Ginny's, too, and compare it with Dan's.

    Max, it's Voter Owned Elections because the voters own the outcome of the election under this system. In traditional campaigns, the Big Money funders own the election of their chosed candidate. Under Voter Owned Elections, the elected representatives are empowered by the voters to make decisions, without always having to refer each line item of the budget back to the voters, since they will be able to do so without undue influence from a few campaign contributors.

  • Suzii (unverified)
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    And it's Voter-Owned Elections because the voters pay for them.

    As in, would you rather have a 1990 Corolla with a "Don't Laugh -- It's Paid For" bumper sticker or have to kiss up to your obnoxious neighbors to beg rides in their 2006 BMW (and have to wait until they found it convenient to go your way)?

  • Max (unverified)
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    "Max, it's Voter Owned Elections because the voters own the outcome of the election under this system."

    So we somehow "own" the election even though we never got a say?

    I can't get my head around that, sorry. Had voters been permitted a vote, and agreed to go forward, then it would be "voter owned elections". As it stands, it's just City Council Rooting Through Your Wallet elections.

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    You got a say Max, if you voted in the last Council elections. They represent you that way.

    What would you have voted on? How could you have made an informed decision without seeing how it worked?

    I prefer "clean candidate" financing. That's really the important part; that you know someone who gets (and keeps) the money is running a straight campaign with no funny business. They're not on the take for income, and they're not playing games with what they spend it on. Knowing that is worth every penny of the 30 cents you paid for VOE, Max.

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    Here's an offer. If someone can give me a spreadsheet of the zip codes for Erik's contributions, I'll get them plotted on a map.

    The one I'd like to plot it Ginny's. How big a circle should we draw for $10K from Comcast?

  • Amanda Fritz (unverified)
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    Why zip codes rather than neighborhoods, Chris? Other than that it's easier, of course. Portland is a city of neighborhoods, not a metropolis where we tie our sense of place to zip codes. And if Erik's team checked his $5 donations for accuracy/Portland residency the way my volunteers did, by looking up the neighborhood on Portlandmaps.com, his campaign may be able to give you a summary of number of donations by neighborhood.

    For the non-VOE candidates, you'd have to look up their donors the way we checked all our $5s, but there are way fewer addresses.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    Can someone tell me where the database for state candidate donations might be available online? Similar to opensecrets.org, but for state/local candidates?

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    Well, I found the statewide one... somewhat irritating to wade through.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    And here is the Portland area stuff...

  • Pavel Goberman (unverified)
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    Message to Amanda Fritz and all citizens of Portland:

    Portalnd Police is abusing power, making people criminals without any evidence, without any court decision, without any prove. It is a brutality, it is a violation of the Constitution of the USA. I a few times spoke about it before Portland City Council: Mayor Potter, D. Saltzman, E. Sten, S. Adams, R. Leonard = and no any action. It is a support, cover-up crimes of Portland Police. It is a violation of our Constitution. US Constitution Amendment XIV Section 3 says than no person shall be a Senator or Representative or hold any office who does not support the Constitution of the USA. No one should be above the law! Take this political garbage out from the PEOPLE's office. Change dirty diapers. It is my statement and I can testify against all of them.

    Pavel Goberman - Candidate for US Repres. 1st Distr. (against D. Wu)

  • Jonathan (unverified)
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    Peter - try www.followthemoney.org - even though it only goes up to '04 (so far), it's way more searchable.

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    I note a few things. First, as I've suspected, most of the campaign contributions in this city, even for a "insurgent" like Fritz, come from a relatively small number of wealthy, inner SE/NE and the wealthy SW neighborhoods. Yes, Amanda's map shows a small number of donors in outer areas, but her fundraising is dominated by the inner neighborhoods.

    Let's end the myth that Portland is one big friendly city and face up to the reality that there are very different needs and interests, particularly that the Northern tier and outer Southeast are basically unrepresented. City Council should run in districts.

    Amanda: you write this: Saltzman is "limiting" his contributions to $500 per contributor, but that can be $500 from one family member, $500 from another, and $500 from each of three businesses owned by the family.

    Since your campaign workers pored through the records, did this happen? You have the data right in front of you. Or is this just an unfounded charge you are levelling?

    And I have to say, I don't particularly worry about "out of state" interests donating to campaigns. Maybe these are family friends. Maybe these are displaced Portlanders. Maybe these are people who love our city. Who knows?

    When out of state money came into Oregon to fight against Prop. 36, were you also opposed to that?

  • C (unverified)
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    What would you have voted on? How could you have made an informed decision without seeing how it worked?

    How quaint. Not only am I too stupid to vote on voter-owned elections, I'm too stupid to even understand the concept without "seeing" it. I knew that college degree was worthless.

    Of course, I'm also too stupid to realize that $150,000 divided by 5,000 contributors is $30 a head, not too far off Potter's $25 limit, and certainly doable for a candidate who can get $5 a head off 5,000 people.

  • brett (unverified)
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    How does a bunch of empty rhetoric, Orwellian labeling, and demagoguery about where money comes from answer the Emilie Boyles problem? How can anyone look at that debacle and conclude that voter-subsidized campaigns are a good idea?

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    Let's end the myth that Portland is one big friendly city and face up to the reality that there are very different needs and interests, particularly that the Northern tier and outer Southeast are basically unrepresented. City Council should run in districts.

    As one of those "basically unrepresented" North Portlanders, I've heard a lot of people say this but so far no one has convinced me it's true. Oh, I believe the "different needs and interests" part. It's the part where I'll be better represented if we have districts that I have a problem with.

    I see the value of having someone on the council from my part of town, I've appreciated Sam Adams' presence. Geographic variety can inform the debate. On the other hand, one or two individual council people can't get squat done--you need three votes as things stand now and if we expand the council you'll need even more. How does having one representative who is always in the minority give me better representation? As it stands now, if the council makes a decision that really screws my part of town, I can potentially organize and get the attention of every council member because one area of town that's really up-in-arms can easily make the difference in an election. What do all the council people outside of my one representative have to lose if they vote to trash my part of town under a district organization? It seems to me North and Southeast Portland might have a lot more to lose than to gain if we go to district representation.

  • (Show?)

    See a visualization of the contributions in the other Council race.

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    Doretta,

    I suppose it's a matter of degree. 20% of the council from your area is no small number. Remember that each other district faces the same issue--they alone also can't get squat done.

    With a representative from your district, the other members have to build coalitions with your representative. That usually means horse trading. Under the current system, it is quite possible that most members receive the bulk of their financial support and votes from a few areas of town. If you think N Portland and SE Portland have shared interests, a district system allows your reps to ally to push those interests.

    Second, it makes accountability much clearer. If you have a complaint, you know immediately who to contact. If you like something that's been done, you know who to credit.

  • (Show?)

    "C" sez: "Of course, I'm also too stupid to realize that $150,000 divided by 5,000 contributors is $30 a head, not too far off Potter's $25 limit, and certainly doable for a candidate who can get $5 a head off 5,000 people."

    I'm not going to address your stupidity, but clean candidates don't get 5,000 contributors, they get $5,000 from 1,000 contributors. Which, by the math you're doing (that I'm not sure I get the point of), is $150 a head.

  • jatterbu (unverified)
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    Max (and everyone else that is against VOE),

    there is one very important point being completely overlooked here. The old way of political financing is STILL paid for by YOU. all those companies that fund candidates got their money from YOU as a consumer. and unless you can track which company (and various subsidiaries) finances which candidate, and can maintain a strict boycott of EVERY product made by said company, then you will still be subsidizing candidates that you dont like.

    at least with VOE you know who is getting money and from whom.

  • jatterbu (unverified)
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    Max (and everyone else that is against VOE),

    there is one very important point being completely overlooked here. The old way of political financing is STILL paid for by YOU. all those companies that fund candidates got their money from YOU as a consumer. and unless you can track which company (and various subsidiaries) finances which candidate, and can maintain a strict boycott of EVERY product made by said company, then you will still be subsidizing candidates that you dont like.

    at least with VOE you know who is getting money and from whom.

  • LMAO (unverified)
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    I predict that Sten and Saltzman both win reelection in the primary.

    SCOREBOARD: Challengers....0 Incumbents.....2

    No great rush of citizen participation. No tidal wave of gender or racial diversity. Just two white guys, reelected to their safe seats. One of them with VOE money, the other with his supporter's money. Each beholden to nobody, unless they're corrupt.

  • LMAO (unverified)
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    See above...I'm batting .500 according to MultCo's website of final numbers?

    Fritz spent $15.85 cents of taxpayer's money for each vote she received. ($150k divided 9,466 votes) Sten spent $7.59 ($150k divided by 19,758).

    Could I just keep the cash next time, if I promise to vote for the VOE candidate?

  • LMAO (unverified)
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    The "Unofficial Final" vote count is in and I'm batting 1,000:

    INCUMBENTS ROAR! Erik Sten WINS with 50.52% of the votes cast. Dan Saltzman WINS with 57.58% of the votes cast.

    The revised costs per VOE vote cast are:

    Amanda Fritz: $6.40 per vote received Erik Sten: $3.01 per vote received Emilie Boyles: $27.88 per vote received

    CITY COUNCIL SCOREBOARD: Challengers....0 Incumbents.....2 Fraud Artists..2

    <h2>THE WHITE GUYS WIN AGAIN! And Erik didn't have to grovel all over Homer asking for money (this time!).</h2>
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