VOE system works; Boyles ordered to pay back funds

The administrative law judge who reviewed the spending of the Emilie Boyles for City Council campaign has ordered Boyles to pay back $144,905 in Voter-Owned Elections spending - plus over $14,000 in fines. From the order:

“By spending public funds, Boyles was obligated to ensure she spent those funds only on bona fide services and paid no more that a fair market share. Boyles could have, but did not, take reasonable steps to ensure that happened…”

Opponents of VOE have pointed to the Boyles case as an example of failure. But the system worked. Full, timely disclosure led to media investigation - which led to rapid action by the auditor's office - and now a judgment against the campaign that broke the rules.

Read the announcement . Dive into the full legal order (PDF).

Questions for BlueOregon readers: What kinds of tweaks can or should be made to the VOE system in order to reduce the chance of another situation like this? In the event that some of the Boyles funds are unrecoverable, what changes could be made to reduce the exposure of the VOE Fund to candidates that break the rules?


  • no one in particular (unverified)

    Dude, I'm a huge VOE fan, but there's so much controversy about it that people seem obsessed with declaring every non-failure as proof that it works.

    Um, the woman who tried to rip off city government got rebuked by a judge. How is that proof that VOE "works"? VOE was designed to get people who wouldn't normally be elected into office. It totally hasn't done that yet. (I'd argue that for a first time, not much should've been expected, though.)

    Running around claiming this is proof that VOE works just makes it look like your hopes for VOE are very slim. I think it does a disservice to VOE as a whole.

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    VOE was designed to get people who couldn't meet the fundraising hurdle into the process, it doesn't guarantee that they win elections, we still have campaigns for that :-)

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    Each potential VOE candidate should hook up to a lie detector and answer the following questions:

    1. Are you crazy?

    2. Are you going to hire your children, household pets or plants to work on your campaign?

    3. Do you quote scripture on your web site?

    A yes answer to any of these questions disqualifies the candidate.

    BTW, I should say that I am a huge VOE fan, and hope that VOE meets its potential here as it has in Maine and Arizona.

  • Jesse O (unverified)

    Given Emily's credit history, I won't really think the money's back until it's actually back. It all Boyles down to being pretty vigilant, not to inherent problems in the system.

    I'm not a favor of limiting signators to registered voters, but requiring the funds to be checks and money orders would be fine to me. Having 1000 copies of five dollars from folks would be very helpful.

    For me, VOE should be about the developers not being able to buy elections and having less influence at city hall. For that, we need to continue to be vigilant about what's happening at City Hall, including the lobbying registration system from Com. Adams and making sure that's improved (and followed). That, and having adequate funding for good newspaper reporters.

  • lw (unverified)

    It works? That is like saying that fining a drunk driver $2000 dollars and you don't collect, and the crime is committed again, that this is sucess.

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    activists who believe in VOE should work within their political parties and other organizations to develop the resources needed to conduct a successful VOE-eligibility campaign. we do this for other election activities; time to take this great campaign reform opportunity in hand.

    there's no reason for a legitimate candidate not to be successful in getting VOE eligible. 1000 contributions is not a trivial amount, even at only $5 a pop. but if you expect to win a race, you have to show your chops sometime. there are plenty of people who know how to run a campaign, so let's use these resources to develop some specific strategies and helps for possible candidates. it would defeat the purpose of VOE for excellent candidates to miss their chance to run because they are political novices. the 1000-contribution campaign is a great way to learn what it means to run a campaign and be a candidate.

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    It works? That is like saying that fining a drunk driver $2000 dollars and you don't collect, and the crime is committed again, that this is sucess.

    No... it's like saying that a cop spotted the drunk driver as they pulled onto the freeway, pulled 'em over, and took 'em to the station.

    Ya can't stop people from drunk driving, and ya can't stop people from trying to corrupt the system. The only question is whether you catch 'em in time.

  • no one in particular (unverified)

    Okay, fine. It's like saying a cop spotted a VOE cadidate driving as they pulled onto the freeway, pulled 'em over, and took 'em to the station.


    I just don't get what busting Boyles has to do with whether or not VOE "works". The two things seem only tangentially related.

  • no one in particular (unverified)

    To be fair, I thought it was equally stupid when people claimed that since Boyles was a thief, VOE was fatally flawed. I suppose this is just a reaction to that logic. I just think it's equally stupid logic, is all.

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    Fair enough, fair enough. The system is designed to do some other things - not just catch bad guys. But I'm reacting to the Gard + Gerber spin that because Emilie Boyles is a crook that the system failed.

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    VOE has as much to do with pointing out which candidates are conducting their campaigns with integrity and free from major donor influence, as it does with broadening the potential candidate field. And I don't think there's any doubt that the Boyles experience--in which her violations were quickly found and penalized--and by contrast the experiences of Fritz and Sten, shows the success of the program in helping voters decide which is which.

    Fritz--clean campaign Sten--clean campaign Boyles--dirty campaign Burdick, et al--???

    Let's put it another way: will anyone cop to being a supporter or of an open mind on Boyles' candidacy, until they discovered she was misusing public funds? I was, and while I was kicked some of the way off the bandwagon by her City Club performance, the whole of the boot met my backside with the announcement of her violations. If she'd run a traditional campaign, and I'd been paying a bit less attention, I might have made the mistake of voting for her. And so might others have. What if she'd garnered enough votes to force a runoff? She got several thousand votes as it was, and just barely missed doing so.

  • Larry (unverified)

    Jennifer, that's just a horrible post.

    Family members work on campaigns all the time - but with VOE they shouldn't? And someone who's religious and quotes scripture should be disallowed from the process? Very nice.

    I agree with the "Are you crazy" question and the ban on houseplants and pets working on the campaign however....

  • jami (unverified)

    i think the rules should have been more clear all along. if you'd gotten this money, would you have known the details that you couldn't rent an office for a year or hire your daughter to do internet work? i wouldn't have known that. i think boyles' mistakes were honest ones, and it's horrible that a not-wealthy person who tried to run for office is now $14,000 (plusplusplus) further in the hole.

    voe didn't "work" at all for a normal person without a squadron of lawyers, because the minute she did some random things a couple bloggers and journos didn't like, she had to give back all she'd spent and then some. until the powers that be make the rules crystal clear, the powers that be, not emilie boyles, should be on the hook.

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    Larry, it was a tongue-in-cheek post.

    Family members work on campaigns, yes. But I question the use of children -- as in minors, as in Emilie Boyles' 16-year-old daughter earning $12,000 for spamming Yahoo user groups -- on the public dime.

    And sorry, but I stand by my personal ban on zealots bringing their religious beliefs to public policy.

    Again, I saw Clean Elections work in Maine -- I lived there from 2002 to 2005 and spoke with many Clean Elections candidates in person. It really does draw smart, non-slick candidates out from the woodwork, and free up candidates to talk with constituents versus potential funders.

  • Amy Jenniges (unverified)

    Instead of handing candidates the lump $150K, how about cutting them smaller checks (maybe $20K to start), or dispurse it on a reimbursement (for approved campaign expenses) basis. That's more work on the city's end—and a slight inconvenience for candidates—but it would lessen the potential for damage. The $160K we've probably lost to Emilie would more than cover the staff time needed to check VOE candidates' receipts and quickly cut them checks.

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    jami sez: "i think the rules should have been more clear all along. if you'd gotten this money, would you have known the details that you couldn't rent an office for a year or hire your daughter to do internet work? i wouldn't have known that."

    Don't run for office, then--or alternatively, take the time to read the rules for the program you are planning to participate in. Explicit proscriptions against each of the things she did are within the rules for participation.

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    I am a huge supporter of the separation of church and state; however, I have no problem with people quoting or using Scripture during their campaigns. Many do it. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. It's when the candidate lets a false sense of their religion cloud their candidacy and judgement. Much of the problems we have with right wing zealots has nothing to do with the Scripture or Christianity-- it has to do with a false reading/understanding of what the Scripture states.

    I think in some ways we could use more of the Scripture in public policy, but not in the way the reight-wingers do it-- in the love your neighbor, don't judge lest ye be judges, help the least among us, etc. kind of way.

    Quoting Scripture doesn't mean you're a right-wing zealot or are going to go hog wild injecting your religion into the government. This false view of people who do so is a big reason why we've had such a hard time getting members of the faith community involved in the Democratic Party.

    I'm a Southern Baptist. And sometimes I quote Scripture and hymns. And when I do run for office again, don't be surprised if my faith does play a part in my candidacy. Does that make me a right wing zealot?

    I also have no problem with hiring of family members, even minors. They may have considerable skills in areas such as designing web sites, advocating for you on the web, designing materials, etc. However, if you're going to use them and pay them, there needs to be proof they've done what they're being hired to do and that the money paid is appropriate.

    I've known many 16 and 17 year olds who were great at designing web sites. I've known some who could create great newsletters, flyers, and more-- I was one myself.

    Does that mean every 16 or 17 year-old could do it? No. But a good number may be able to.

    The rules already state that you have to be able to show that the doing work truly earned it, regardless of their age or relation to you.

  • Amanda (unverified)


    Boyles' errors weren't mere "random" mistakes that anyone w/o a lawyer could've stumbled into. She paid her kid $12K to, as someone above pointed out, spam a bunch of user groups. Even if her website had been a technological marvel to behold (and it was not), that is far higher than the going rate for outreach work unless the person doing the work has substantial experience. That it was her daughter (who, incidentally, paid the rent on their dwelling a couple of days later) raises further red flags about Boyles' conduct. VOE is clear on its face that one can only use those funds for the election one has qualified for--you don't need a lawyer to figure out that that means "elections office rent through May only."

    It's public money. She knew it came with strings attached. She agreed to abide by them, in writing. It's not nitpicky to expect someone who voluntarily undertakes to use public funds toward an election to know and follow the rules governing use of those funds.

    On the thread-starting question, I agree with another poster that doling out the money in dribs and drabs would most effectively protect the funds in the event that fraud is discovered. Others have also suggested requiring proof of the $5 donation in some way--I'd prefer to see it restricted to registered voters. The signatures (unless there's an objection to county elections performing verifications) could be verified, thus allowing people who prefer to donate cash to do so. And after all, they're voter-owned elections, so I don't see any reason to include non-voters in the process. My concern here is not just semantic--there's just a far greater likelihood of fraud if you don't limit the petition/$5 contributions to an identifiable group with an actual stake in the outcome of the election.

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    i think the rules should have been more clear all along. if you'd gotten this money, would you have known the details that you couldn't rent an office for a year or hire your daughter to do internet work? i wouldn't have known that.

    The rules were clear enough to other candidates. Boyles managed to understand the rules she chose to understand--how many signatures you need, how to file, etc. The rest of the rules were similarly available for her to understand.

    I would buy that some of it may not have been entirely obvious to Ms. Boyles. However, even the most cursory reading of the rules makes it clear that you can't pay any part of any utility bill for a personal residence. It also very clearly says you can only pay family members for bona fide services at fair market value.

    She could have paid her daughter for internet work if the work was the kind of internet work typical to campaigns and she had paid her a typical amount for such work. Had she checked around to find out what campaign web sites cost and then paid her daughter that amount to create a typical campaign website there would have been no problem.

    I agree that claiming that this judgment means VOE works is overblown. I also agree, however, that Ms. Boyles problems similarly don't prove that it doesn't work. I also agree that you have to give VOE a few years in action to judge whether or not it works.

  • OAM (unverified)

    VOE is a HUGE success: with a 100% incumbent retention ratio!

    4 VOE candidates submitted the 1,000 signature petitions for qualification. How did they fare?

    Emilie Boyles was approved (based on false signatures): legal chaos followed, blood from turnip claim pending.

    Lucinda Tates was denied (with the same false signatures at E.B.): legal chaos averted.

    Amanda Fritz was approved (but had her head handed to her on a plate).

    Erik Sten (author of the VOE ordinance): used taxpayer funds to gain reelection to his third term.

    YEAH: Erik Wins without kissing up to Porland's Rich and Famous! Better yet: he didn't even ask the taxpayers of Portland for their permission. He won, right? VOE approved.

    Could it get any better than this?

  • Robert Ted Hinds (unverified)

    I have to say, OAM makes a pretty convincing case and pretty much nails the situation on the head. I think the concept is a good idea, but the results are undeniable.

    The sad thing is that Boyles should not have got that money in the first place. It would have been a couple weeks of scandal and then she would have disappeared. I haven't actually done it, because it's rather time consuming on paper, but if you have a program like PDF Converter Pro to take Boyles signature submissions, convert to Excel, then use an "=round(randbetween(1,1000),0)" function on the entire list to do a true 10% random sample, I'll bet you come up with enough exceptions to justify expanding the sample and doing additional testing. Just looking at her list (multiple names at the same address, for example) it doesn't pass the smell test. Blackmer should not be excused from the table until he eats all his humble pie on this one.

  • Wesley Charles (unverified)

    Portland's use of the term, "Voter-Owned Elections" while claiming its tax-payer funded campaigns is like those in Arizona or Maine, is as disingenuous as it is slick.

    The systems in Arizona and Maine were APPROVED BY VOTERS on a state-wide basis. In contrast, the PDX commissioners absolutely fear and continue to fear referring this matter to Portland voters anytime soon.

    The systems in Arizona and Maine require that "qualifying contributions" must be made by registered voters of that jurisdiction. Portland, on the other hand, went for "inclusiveness" in which a "qualifying contribution" may be made by anyone, regardless of age or citizenship, so long as the candidate "believes" the person lives in Portland.

    Boyles is a pathetic joke who deserves as much empathy as scorn, and plenty of each. She is a low-income East Portlander who lives in a trailer with overdue bills. Along comes a government windfall and she spends it as one would expect: she pays off her debts and goes on a spending spree. No surprise there.

    For the sake of truth-in-blogging, for those who fawn over Blackmer's and Sten's grand experiement, please stop claiming Portland's system is like Arizona or Maine or any other jurisdiction where voter's have actually opted to "buy" what they now "own."

    • Wes
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    VOE is a HUGE success: with a 100% incumbent retention ratio!

    You're mixing your oranges and apples. Whether incumbents win in a single election has nothing to do with the success or failure of VOE. It wasn't designed as a boot-incumbents initiative, but one to get new candidates to the table. Consider: if Amanda Fritz had decided to run in the previous system, would she have seen near equity on spending totals? The system is a success because it attracted a candidate of Fritz's caliber and leveled the playing field so she could compete with an incumbent. She got a fair shot, something first-timers almost never get.

    How in the world can this be spun as a failure?

  • OAM (unverified)

    VOE = IPA (Incumbent Protection Act).

    1. You can't beat an incumbent with fundraising "parity" (live boy/dead girls exception noted). Accepting VOE funds as a challenger is unilateral disarmament. It's an exercise in democratic futility, with plenty of sound and fury (and a "crowded" field), signifying?

    2. We don't "need" public subsidies to encourage qualified candidates to run for an open seat (as Mayor Potter can attest).

    3. This is all about greasing the "Sten for Mayor" juggernaut's wheels, assuming he hasn't found anything better (Earl!) by the time Potter steps down.

    That is all.

  • Ramon (unverified)

    There's more than a little smoke filling the air around this issue, so how about a little clarity.

    Tax-funded campaigning is like all campaign finance "reform": of the incumbents, by the incumbents, and for the incumbents.

    Portland's ordinance was designed to enable incumbents to win with the least effort. In this instance, like with most campaign finance "reform", it worked very well, and should be counted as a huge success by the magicians who are able to turn 51,339 citywide votes into an overwhelming mandate.

  • Hello Out There (unverified)

    Here's a quick VOE fix:

    1. Acknowledge the incumbency advantage by giving each qualifying VOE challenger $2 for each $1 spent by the incumbent (irrespective of source) in the primary with no caps.

    2. In the general election, give the challenger additional matching funds (same 2:1 ratio) vs. the incumbent with no caps.

    3. Compensate for the "soft" advantages of incumbency: recognize that unions, developers, city employees, and businesses can encourage their friends/colleagues/employees to volunteer in favor of Commissioner Gravy Train. ... A. Require the reporting of ALL volunteer labor hours by incumbents (challengers get a free pass) ... B. Once volunteer hours exceed a certain threshold, start compensating the VOE challenger with cash on a 3:1 ratio (at $20/hour). ... C. Provide equal time on cable access (Channel 30) to all VOE challengers. ....D. Require that any Council Staff that are "volunteering" for the campaign do so exclusively on nights and weekends. ....E. Require that any Council Staff that are paid by the campaign are prohibited from drawing a City of Portland salary until AFTER election day.

    4. If any "independent" expenditure emerges to spend visible amounts of money or volunteer time in support of an incumbent, the challenger is provided additional matching funds (not to exceed $500k). ... A. The citizen's advisory commission would be empowered to estimate the value of independent expenditures, where no reliable statistics are promptly made available.

    5. Provide the challengers with a city funded "help desk" (EVERYTHING DONE IN WRITING) to answer compliance questions. Free, of course. Nobody should have to pay for help. And no bullShot about: we don't give advice about this or that. YOU'RE THE HELP DESK: HELP ME.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)

    It works? Is that why the two incumbents were reelected?

    Bob Tiernan

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    OAM wrote You can't beat an incumbent with fundraising "parity" (live boy/dead girls exception noted). Accepting VOE funds as a challenger is unilateral disarmament.

    Duh..... We've never had parity before. 90% of incumbents outspend challengers. This time, the challengers had the same amount of money (Fritz) or more money (Burdick) available to them. Burdick outspent Sten by $35,000.

    Not only that, but Burdick could have lifted the parity point to $300,000 - which would have been enough to raise her profile substantially. Beyond that, she could have kept fundraising to the sky - and Sten would have been stuck at the hard-cap of $300,000.

    The fact that Burdick didn't go that high is proof that she either 1) couldn't, or 2) chose not to. Neither choice is Erik Sten's, nor VOE's fault.

    As for Fritz, she made the decision to accept $150k and the limits that came attached. If she thought she could raise more than that, then she could have voluntarily made the choice to skip VOE. By choosing to go VOE, it's proof that she either 1) couldn't raise more than that, or 2) thought that limiting Saltzman to roughly $150k was worth the limits on herself.

  • Steve (unverified)

    VoE does work. We only had two people try to rip it off and the incumbents got re-elected. We found out the actual number in primaries all candidates can qualify for is actually $300K and not $150K. We also found VoE works to preserve the status quo of Portland government.

    In all, a great success!!! Er, what was the problem we were trying to fix?

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    Hello Out There: what happens when the incumbent chooses to be a VOE candidate? How does the scheme work then?

    Robert: why do multiple names at the same address not pass the smell test? Usually we call that a "family."

    Wesley: residency is not established by "belief;" it's established by the provision of a Portland City address. And even if the characterization of Boyles is relatively close, I find it pretty repugnant to assert that the City should have just KNOWN not to give money to someone in a trailer. And Portland's system IS like Arizona's and Maine's; you are arguing political process rather than electoral implementation.

    Ramon: wild speculation and unsubstantiated assertions don't exactly "clear the air."

  • Mr. Ed (unverified)

    VOE mandated "funding parity" means the VOE incumbent is likely to win against most challengers (unless the incumbent is a real basket case). Non-VOE participating challengers (the "Dirty Money candidates") will be dissuaded from even trying to outspend the incumbent. What's the point if you're just putting a dollar in the VOE incumbent's campaign fund for every dollar you raise.

    Don't forget: if a dirty money candidate tries to outspend the VOE incumbent, he will be provided with matching funds, dollar for dollar, up to the $300,000 matching funds cap.

    Add up$150k primary subsidy, the $200k general election subsidy, and another $300k of matching funds subsidy, and the Dirty Money challenger must raise $650,000 of campaign contributions before they have any chance of outspending the incumbent.

    That's called institutionalized incumbency.

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    please stop claiming Portland's system is like Arizona or Maine or any other jurisdiction where voter's have actually opted to "buy" what they now "own."

    The law was passed by elected representatives and is just as legitimate as if it had been passed by an electoral vote. If that's not true, then we need to scrap every other bill passed by the state legislature, Congress, etc.

  • Jesse O (unverified)

    Many people thought Saltzman was vulnerable, as was Sten (polling showed Sten was definitely vulnerable). I think a good campaign by the right candidate, run against either of them could have won. As it was, Burdick and Fritz ran non-stellar campaigns, and Sten and Saltzman ran excellent campaigns. (Burdick wasn't energetic and let herself be labeled as the big business candidate. Fritz didn't contrast herself with Saltzman.)

    Even though the incumbents won, they're not nearly as scared of pissing off big election funders as they would have been in the past.

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    VOE mandated "funding parity" means the VOE incumbent is likely to win against most challengers (unless the incumbent is a real basket case).

    VOE mandates nothing; it's an option. It's absolutely bizarre to me that people think keeping spending limits low and more or less equal somehow favors incumbents. Incumbency is itself a huge advantage, and one of the key elements of that advantage is by bringing in money. If you want to encourage participation of unknown but qualified candidates to run against incumbents, you've got to at least reduce the enormous financial advantage the incumbent faces. Sure, you've still got to overcome the name recognition and popularity of the incumbent. But put yourself in the position of the challenger: relative financial parity like Fritz and Burdick enjoyed, or getting outspent three or four to one. (I'll be Rob Brading would love to be running under VOE.)

    Let's also remember that Sten and Saltzman are POPULAR incumbents. Both may have their detractors, but come on--Portlanders made their own decision. Are you saying they were somehow suckered?

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    Good lord. That should be "financial advantage the incumbent enjoys" and "I'll bet Rob Brading ..."

  • Bob T (unverified)

    VOE didn't work, even under the most optimistic spin. Disclosure worked, and review of the public record worked. That's what nabbed Boyles, just like it nabbed Dan Doyle - which has nothing to do with public vs. private dollars funding the campaigns. As to "opening the system to new candidates", Portland has never seemed to have a problem with that. When OkenBerg ran for Mayor, weren't there like another 10 candidates - including Jada Mae (God rest her soul)? How were any of them were any less "serious" than Boyles or Tate or Fritz (other than Jada Mae)? Likewise, when the Neighborhood Association leaders went after R. Leonard, none of them were less "serious" than Tate or Boyles or Fritz; but none of the really belonged on City Council either. The difference is that we weren't on the hook to pay for them (I know we didn't ultimately pay for anything for Tate BTW). We shouldn't have to pay for campaigns of people who are not qualified or capable of being serious policy makers on City Council, no matter how long they've been some kind of activist. There is no barrier to accessing the system. Filing for office is easy. There clearly are impediments to serious candidates who could actually serve competently in City Hall, and so far VOE has not demonstrated that it impacts that shortage in any way. Our choices did not improve - they just are paid for differently. VOE did what it was designed to do - re-elect Sten. Any other "success" is just spin, and an overeaction/defense mechanism in response to the VOE foes. At best, beyond re-electing Sten, this system is unproven. It is neither a failure nor a success, and perhaps irrelevant.

  • (Show?)

    Voter-Owned Elections wasn't designed to be inherently anti-incumbent or anti-challenger, but rather to make a more level playing field for in which candidates can more fairly compete. Let's also look at the history of Portland's local elections before VOE: in more than 100 contests, only 5 incumbents have lost. There may be multiple factors involved -- but the one determinate above all others is the fundraising disparity.

    It's also interesting to me that the one challenger who ran under VOE, Amanda Fritz, does NOT blame VOE for her lost, but the one challenger who ran a big money campaign (and as Kari noted outspent the incumbent by $35,000), Ginny Burdick, does.

    VOE was designed to bring more people into the process, and although the Fritz effort came up short, neighborhood activists were given a voice. And even though Saltzman didn't run as a VOE candidate, that contest was clearly less of a fundraising arms race than it would have been under the old system.

  • (Show?)

    Also, say the Sten/Burdick race results were exactly reversed and Burdick won. Opponents would still be against VOE, and they'd say the race was a referendum on VOE (as Sten was the prime author) and that he was defeated as a result. And they'd have the Oregonian editorials and anti-VOE radio spots to back it up.

  • (Show?)

    When OkenBerg ran for Mayor, weren't there like another 10 candidates

    I think it was 17. I moderated the only debate in that race, and 14 showed up. One dropped out that night, on stage.

  • Jonathan (unverified)

    Why isn't the money kept in city coffers, with check requests made out by candidates. If nothing else, it thereby keeps the money away from a candidates' creditors. When Boyles qualified to run, I took a look, and found that she was a judgment debtor, i.e. there was at least one unpaid judgment against her. Given that potential, let's let the city auditor keep a tigher rein on the funds.

  • (Show?)

    I found out at a City Club party Friday that you could have an entire Council election just with Oken-Bergs! I counted three that night...

  • jon (unverified)

    Is there a credit check to assess risk before handing handing out public funds to candidates? If not, maybe there should be. Banks do it before they hand out money...hell, insurance companies do it to decide what your policy will cost.

  • Ramon (unverified)

    VOE was designed to bring more people into the process ...

    Please pass the air-sickness bag. The only way for new & different people to get in is for "old faces" to exit. Tax-funded campaigns do nothing to discourage a politican + entourage from occupying a public office for an entire working career. To open things up, you need a law that allows only one re-election. Eight years is enough on the Council. Without regular open seats, it's simply a closed system.

    No matter the amount tax money you throw at it, subsidizing political campaigns with "Free Money" is like ... putting lipstick on a pig.

  • Amanda Fritz (unverified)

    The 1000-contribution campaign is a great way to learn what it means to run a campaign and be a candidate.

    No, T.A. The skills/experience/talents required to collect the contributions bear almost no resemblence to those needed in the rest of the campaign. The 1000-contributions phase tells the public about the candidate - it doesn't tell the candidate what the rest of the campaign will be like. It indicates which parts of town a candidate connects with, which is a great way to learn whether the candidate would have a citywide perspective if elected. And the efficiency and accuracy of collecting the donations speaks to the candidate's organizational skills and level of initial community support. That's why I smiled when the Tribune characterized my campaign as "unsuccessful". It was unsuccessful in getting me elected, this time. It was totally successful in proving a community candidate could jump through all the hoops.

    Amy, the money is already dispersed mostly towards the end, but I think you're right that it could be deposited differently without impact to candidates, since most of the spending is needed in the last two months.

    Jon, I wasn't asked for a credit check, because the campaign funds and my personal ones are clearly required to be separate. The rules stated Emilie was not allowed to use them for her home use.

    I learned two key lessons from this campaign. One, that Portlanders care a lot, and there are many, many, kind honorable people willing to engage. The second lesson is there is so much more to the incumbent advantage than just the money. The playing field won't be close to level until we move beyond the focus on reportable Contributions and Expenditures, and address other key factors, such as: experienced consultants and campaign staff working for incumbents; automatic re-endorsements by some community groups unless the incumbent has screwed up, and the ongoing urge to bet on the likely winner with endorsements even if not with dollar contributions; free publicity for incumbents in city mailings, and in the newspapers especially if endorsed; access to community groups like Neighborhood Associations in the capacity of Commissioner; and * the experience of being a candidate for Portland City Council and knowing what is required.

    I like many of "Hello Out There"'s suggestions to address some of these factors. I have a growing list of recommendations for the Campaign Finance Commission, and I learned a lot which I will share.

    Prior to this election, nobody had ever been a Public Campaign Finance Fund candidate here in Portland. Nobody knew what would work in conducting a VOE-based campaign that would truly level the playing field. We still don't, due in part to the skewed publicity caused by Emilie's aberations -- note: not following the rules, rather than exploitation of loopholes. The rules are detailed and specific, and I found the Auditor's Office very willing to explain them when I asked questions.

    That's why we shouldn't vote on this just yet - it's still a work in progress. And still a step forward, compared with the traditional system.

  • Marshall Runkel (unverified)

    First, no one is right that catching a n'ere do well is not proof that the system works. Still, Emily's demise will serve as a cautionary tale for all the other potential gamers out there. Remember, all the people on this board that are now complaining about the implementation of the system were ridiculing it when it was being considered by the City Council. I'm not going to dig out the links, but there was abundant speculation about how people would take public funds and go to Hawaii, etc...

    The idea that the public finance system protects incumbents better than the any sum from anyone system or specifically helped Erik is a joke. The research, such as it is, on incumbency is mixed. This study by the Connecticut Legislature's research office is the best I've seen on the subject. Hooray for Connecticut for becoming the latest state to adopt public financing, btw! Without public financing, Erik not only would have been less likely to face a candidate financed by the forces that hate public financing, but also would not have had to de facto limit his funding to equal or less than his opponent.

    My suggestion for an improvement would be to require daily reporting from non participating campaigns in the week, including weekend, before the election. Burdick's campaign stacked its fundraising at the end of the campaign to undermine the matching funds provisions of the public finance system. If you ask me, that kind of calculated, cynical abuse is much more repugnant than Emilie Boyles pathetic act.

  • Marshall Runkel (unverified)

    That should have been Boyles'.

  • (Show?)


    I know you are an advocate of the system, but I don't think it does any good to your cause to misrepresent the measured impact of public financing.

    As you note, the results are mixed. It is just as much a "joke" at this stage in the game to claim that public financing increases competitiveness as it is to claim that it helps incumbents (with respect to the latter, we don't know the level of funding in Portland that is necessary to knock off an incumbent--I think Amanda Fritz will tell you that 150k is too low).

    The conclusions from the Meyer and Werner studies (the CT link is to a legislative report; the studies were conducted by a set of political scientists affiliated with a public finance project at Wisconsin) were decided mixed . To quote:

    • "There is no question that public funding programs have increased the pool of candidates willing and able to run for state legislative office. This effect is most pronounced for challengers, who were far more likely than incumbents to accept public funding."
    • The reelection rate for incumbents in Maine and Arizona dropped significantly in 2002 ... While some of this can be attributed to public funding, in many cases other factors ... offer plausible explanations for the results. (and later) the authors indicate that the changes appear to be within normal limits and are not radically different
    • Inadequately funded public funding programs are ineffective.

    I'll note in closing that the authors write: Some reports, especially those produced by advocacy groups that strongly support public funding, overstate the effect of the new law and ignore other factors (such as term limits or redistricting) that have without question shaped outcomes.

    This will be the biggest challenge of the citizen's commission: 1) to determine the appropriate level of public financing and 2) to determine whether the financing is really making a difference.

  • (Show?)

    An impact evaluation of the VOE system would take considerable resources and longitudinal study. Portland has one more election cycle before it goes for a pubic vote. That is not enough time to do a thourogh impact evaluation. It takes at least 6 years for a government intervention to be "ripe" for multipe regression, bivariate impact evaluations. Plus, there are various other variables that Paul and Marshall's comments did not mention that threaten the validity of these types of evaluations (see the CT report and Wisonsin reports mentioned in their posts). Thus, getting to an truly evidence based conclusion is more style than substance at this point.

    The arguments from the pro and con side unfortunately miss an important shortfall of the system. There is no built in mandate for an impact evaluation. If you really want to get past the pablum and down into the short'n'curlies of this intervention, an impact evaluation is necessary.

    The most interesting question on this thread to me:

    If you don't succeed the first time you attempt something, does that mean the impetus and intent of your attempt is inherently flawed?

    My answer:

    Maybe, but more likely than not it is because you lack the invauable knowlege and skills developed through experience necessary to attain your goal.

    For me, I got my money's worth with the execution of the VOE system.

  • Ramon (unverified)

    Execution by hanging or by lethal injection? Or another punishment that is less cruel & unusual?

    When you start messing with principles underlying the First Amendment that are designed to protect political expression from regulation ("Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech ...") you are on a slippery slope. What part of "no" is so difficult to understand?

    Oh, I almost forgot. The Progressives repealed the Constitution so in Portland, the it's not always all that important.

  • (Show?)

    we don't know the level of funding in Portland that is necessary to knock off an incumbent--I think Amanda Fritz will tell you that 150k is too low

    Then she shouldn't have limited her financing to that level. That is, if she thought she could raise more. If she thought she could NOT raise more than $150k, then VOE got her UP to that level - and had the additional effect of limiting Saltzman's financing.

  • (Show?)

    to determine whether the financing is really making a difference.

    Paul - it's probably too early to tell, and it may never be possible to tell, whether or not VOE is directly responsible for changes in the outcomes of elections.

    But that's not the only yardstick. I think a much more important result - and one that's already definitively apparent - is that the conduct of campaigns is vastly different.

    For starters, both Saltzman and Sten spent more time governing during the campaign season. They also both spent more time doing voter contact stuff. In past elections, they would have both spent vastly more time raising money.

    To me, the change in campaign conduct is much more important than whether it leads to different electoral results.

  • Loonie Toons (unverified)

    Kari wrote: both Saltzman and Sten spent more time governing during the campaign season...

    Do you have any evidence the incumbents were "governing" more during this election cycle vs. the last one?

    From my observation, they were both campaigning every bit as much as usual. Erik was probably campaigning MORE, given his decreased fundraising burden.

    There's really no way to prevent an incumbent from campaigning all day long, despite drawing a F/T salary for "governing". If there's a voter in the room, a reporter or T.V. camera within earshot, or he's chatting with a campaign staffer that "volunteers" for the reelection campaign on nights and weekends, the incumbent is campaigning.

    Does anybody think that "commissionersam.com" has nothing to do with politics? The line between public policy and promotion of the incumbent's ideas and record has been completely blurred.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)

    Jesse O :

    Even though the incumbents won, they're not nearly as scared of pissing off big election funders as they would have been in the past.

    Hmmmm, like Sten had to worry about what his contributors might ask him to do. Fact is he was getting lots of $$$ from those who were in on the New Urbanist/Smart Growth Gravy Train, not because they asked him to pass favorable legislation but because he supports that stuff and they benefitted by default. This money was no secret, yet Sten fans wanted to close their eyes and pretend that only others had such a contribution list. Here's a list of his contributors from last election--note the connection to the Smart Growth Gracy Train (and to the reservoir capping):

    Some contributions to Erik Sten (Portland City Council)

                  YEARS: 2002/1996

    GSL Properties-------------------------------$3,000/500 Kenneth Novack (Schnitzer Investments)-------$5,000 Tom Walsh (Walsh & Assoc.)-------------------$2,500/7,940 Bob Walsh (Walsh Construction) --------------$0/7,500 Don Morrisette Homes, Inc.-------------------$1,000/500 Bob Gerding (Real estate)--------------------$2,500 Conwest Resources, Inc.----------------------$5,000 H. Naito Corporation-------------------------$1,000 Imsport, Inc.--------------------------------$1,000 R. B. Pamplin Corporation--------------------$2,500/1,500 HDR Engineering, Inc.------------------------$2,500 Rose Quarter---------------------------------$1,000 John Russell (Office bldg owner)-------------$1,000 Joseph Weston (Real estate developer)--------$1,000 James Winkler (Real estate developer)--------$2,500/500 Ramis Crew Corrigan & Bachrach LLC-----------$1,000 Bay City LLC---------------------------------$2,500 BPM Associates, LLC--------------------------$2,000 D Park Corporation---------------------------$2,000 MWS Holdings (Tempe, Ariz.)------------------$1,000 MWH Global (wastewater; UK/Pasadena based)---$2,500 Frank A Bitar & Assoc (property mngm't)------$1,000/1,000 Philip Smith (Finance manager) --------------$2,500/647 Heritage Investment Corp.--------------------$1,000 Pat Pendergast (Real estate developer)-------$950/500

    (Source: C&E Reports, 2002 & 1996)

  • Amanda Fritz (unverified)

    Paul made an assumption about my position on increasing the funding level, then Kari responded as if I'd actually said what Paul wrote.

    In fact, when I talk with the Commission next week I will suggest consideration of decreasing the level of funding to $100,000 per qualified candidate. There are many non-monetary actions the Council and community could take that would level the playing field and increase constructive dialogue more than the money did, and I think we should look at all factors rather than keeping the focus on the money. Reducing the spending of incumbents choosing not to use the public system still further would take out even more capacity for Big Money to buy influence. And, the system must recognize that setting the bar so more people qualify is desirable for many reasons, so to keep within the budget the funding allocation per candidate might need to be reduced.

    I don't know if Dan spent more time governing than in previous campaigns, but he was out in the community way more. And evidently he heard some new perspectives, since the comments he made today in Council while voting to accept the prevailing wage/contract report were quite different from those he made six months ago on issues affecting working people. For sure, the new system meant his time was more available for listening to the general public instead of dialing for dollars.

  • (Show?)


    I think we'll have enough elections for a social scientific evaluations of publicly financed elections in another year or two. It may not make any difference for a public vote in Oregon, but it is important as part of the national debate on publicly financed elections.


    I also don't know how you measure more time "governing."


    Lower spending limits will likely benefit incumbents, who already enjoy high name recognition. You campaigned once, so you know well, I'm sure, what money buys for the CANDIDATE--it buys the opportunity to get your message out to the voters.

    Perhaps Portland is small and compact enough that face to face contacts can be used as a way to meet and inform voters. Perhaps candidates have enough time and enough energy to manage these many personal meetings. Perhaps face to face contacts are as or more informative for voters than websites, campaign literature, media ads, and media appearances.

    But perhaps not. Unlike many of the advocates of VOE, I don't presume ahead of time that they are, and I can imagine many localities (for instance, almost anything in the State of California) where they surely are not.

    This is why many political scientists are skeptical about spending limits. It's not that they particularly enjoy the influence of money on political outcomes (although we've had a devil's of a time demonstrating any direct impact--since most donors give to candidate who already agree with them beforehand), but they are much more worried about low turnout and low voter information levels.

    Thus the common comparison between what Americans spend annually on potato chips and what we spend on all our political campaigns combined. Is electing our democratic leaders really so unimportant that we want to handicap the competitors?

    === Last unrelated comment. Amanda Fritz writes: And, the system must recognize that setting the bar so more people qualify is desirable for many reasons,

    I can't agree without knowing what the "many reasons" are, because there are also reasons that it's undesirable.

    Independent of other worthy considerations (e.g. access to the ballot by traditionally underrepresented groups or additional parties), more names on the ballot tends to confuse voters, makes the ballot harder to navigate, is associated with far more voting errors, and increases the likelihood of non-rational outcomes. (I can explain the last if anyone wants to be bored.)

    But I digress onto my criticism of "One Ballot" ... :-)

  • Amanda Fritz (unverified)

    Here are just three of the reasons setting the system so more candidates qualify is desirable, Paul:

    • There are many citizens with important things to say. Public discourse would be improved if more people heard them. All the other Position 3 co-stars (challengers) who campaigned actively had thoughtful viewpoints and unique perspectives that Portlanders should have heard and considered.

    • One challenger has great difficulty being in enough places (or buying enough advertising) in the two months Portlanders are paying attention in a primary to be able to defeat an incumbent or capture enough votes to prompt a runoff, unless the challenger already has some name-familiarity (e.g., Tom Potter, Sam Adams). Both the 8 who ran against Randy Leonard in 2004, reducing his share of the vote to 53%, and Dave Lister's part in almost forcing a Sten-Burdick runoff last month, show that a greater number of more viable challengers can improve the chance of nobody getting 50% + 1 in the primary. Given most people were not paying attention before March, and only a third voted in May, conditions that promote a runoff through November gives citizens a more reasonable opportunity to assess the candidates. In some ways my being the sole challenger qualifying for public funding reduced the chance of getting to a runoff. The co-stars were given hardly any newspaper coverage, so I took votes from them rather than their platforms helping to challenge Dan.

    • To me, one of the greatest beauties and values of the public financed campaign system is that it allows all citizens the chance to get to the table. It funds democracy - every Portlander has the opportunity to make use of it, to run, to win, in a fairer race than under the traditional system. But this is a hollow promise if in fact, hardly anyone can jump its hurdles. If it is truly to break the lock on power of those with power, it must become a system that is successful for more of the brave citizens willing to walk the coals of the campaign.

  • (Show?)

    I also don't know how you measure more time "governing."

    Me neither, but it's a gut instinct having spent time around both the Sten and Saltzman campaigns. [Disclosure: I built their websites, but don't speak for either of them.]

    Here's what I do know - I kept noticing that they were involved in city hearings, doing policy work, yadda yadda - and as a campaign guy felt they should be on the stump more.

    But then, I kept realizing that all those DOZENS of hours every week that would normally have been spent locked in a boiler room dialing for dollars were being split between additional voter contact campaign time and more governing time.

    I suppose one could do a calendar analysis - but I'm not sure if that's really a fine enough analytical tool.

  • (Show?)

    When I asked Sten how running under VOE had changed his campaign this time around he said flatly, "I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you without it." That hour would have gone to fundraising, specifically.

  • ABT (unverified)

    Was that during business hours, Torrid?

    <h2>I didn't think they dialed for dollars while "governing"?</h2>
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