Are Voter Owned Elections Here to Stay?

Jesse Cornett

Should Voter Owned Elections remain in Portland? I think so but then I am biased. The amount of money in Portland politics has greatly reduced since the program was implemented and over time, Portlanders will know they have more of a say in our government than monied interests. And those are good thing for democracy.

Who is opposed to the retention of VOE? The Portland Business Alliance. I’ve worked with the folks over there and they’re certainly not all bad. Their jihad against 66 & 67 and propagating the untruth of job loss hopefully lost them a lot of clout (despite almost immediately after the January race opening their pocketbooks to 66 & 67 supporters running for office).

When VOE was first passed by the City Council, PBA insisted a vote of the people be held and spent $350,000 trying to get it on the ballot. Guess what happened this year when the City Council was referring it out for a vote? They urged the City to repeal the measure, which would have been breaking faith with a 5 year old pledge to have a vote on the issue. Apparently they have no comment now nor did they bother to testify on the subject. Stand up and be counted? Nope, just spend a ton of money misleading voters. Wait for it.

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    I want them, but I think the US Supreme Court just struck down a public financed elections law in Arizona.

    If there isn't already a lawsuit to apply that decision to Portland's VOE, there will be soon.

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      The Arizona litigation focuses on one provision of their Clean Elections program. The underlying constitutionality of public funding is on firm ground.

      One feature of some public funding programs, providing matching funds triggered by independent expenditures or expenditures by a non-participating candidate over the spending limit, will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court due to litigation in Arizona. The Supreme Court will not make a decision before this November's vote on the Portland program.

      The petition asking the Supreme Court to hear this case requested that matching funds in the 2010 Arizona races be suspended, and this injunction was granted.

      All other public funds in Arizona are flowing. Also, nobody has standing to sue in Portland.

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    Jesse, I'm strongly in favor of VOE, but this is going to be an uphill battle. The optics are terrible: spending even a single dime on elections just looks bad during a time of cutbacks. I think a strong argument can be made that spending money here helps voters control expenditures down the road--ultimately giving them more control--but this is one of those complex explanation that gets drowned out by the bumper-sticker retort.

    Which brings us to the second problem--because VOE hasn't resulted in many elected officials, even my argument looks a bit weak. The problem is, we don't have anywhere near a reasonable sample size to make a judgment, but that fact is likely to be ignored, too.

    We'll see what happens, but I'm not holding my breath.

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      Jeff, I read an interview with a representative from the League of Women Voter's in support of VOE that had a pretty solid argument:

      "The cost of Voter-Owned Elections program is capped at two-tenths on one percent of the city budget and involves no new taxes or fees. We’re not even close to that limit and this fact puts the $1,755,869 cost into perspective. It is helpful to divide the $1.7 million cost by the five years the program has been in effect and our City’s population and you will see it works out to 60 cents per Portlander per year. Portland voters understand they are getting a bargain by spending 60 cents per year in return for fair and equitable campaigns protected from the interests of the downtown developers and big business who have historically dominated campaign fundraising."

      You can boil that down to "Are Fair Elections Worth 60 Cents?" or something like it. The cost issue is certainly going to be a tough hurdle to overcome, but I think that's a pretty simple and strong point to make.

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    I think there is a 30 sec. spiel in there somewhere in favor of voter owned elections.

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    The matching feature in Portland's "clean money" regime is the same as the one in Arizona that the Supreme Court just enjoined. If Arizona's system goes down, Portland's will have to be changed, if it isn't scrapped by the voters first.

    It will be interesting to see the constitutional problem played out in the ads on the referendum. The proponents will say, "Let the courts decide." The opponents will say, "You see? It's illegal -- let's get rid of it."

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    I think it is foolish to believe that only PBA opposes VOE. Regardless of how you play the percentages of total budget, everyone can agree that $150K could do a lot if invested in the City instead of its elections.

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      Hi Jonathan- I know you've generally been against this since 2005 but please don't make blanket statements like "everyone can agree that $150K could do a lot if invested in the City instead of its elections."

      I very much believe that the money spent on citywide elections is one of the best investments we can make as a city.

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        Jake, I'm actually not against it. To the contrary, I find it interesting that people can be so vociferously for or against it, without acknowledging legitimate issues on both sides.

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    Just wondering what evidence we have for this: "

    "The amount of money in Portland politics has greatly reduced since the program was implemented"

    Nick, same sort of question to you: what evidence do we have that VOE have changed the dynamics of Portland politics? Very little seems to have changed from my perch. We have just about the same folks running, the same folks winning, and City policies are, well, about the same.

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      Hi Paul, Have you read Common Cause's report on the reduction of money in elections in Portland during the last three election cycles?

      It is posted at the bottom of this page:

      The analysis is only through 2008 (two cycles) but the 2010 data will be posted soon.

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