Get big money out of politics: why Multnomah County voters should vote “yes” on 26-184.

By Juan Carlos Ordóñez of Portland, Oregon. Juan Carlos served on the 2015-16 Multnomah County Charter Review Committee and is a part of

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of debating the merits of Multnomah County ballot Measure 26-184 at a forum organized the League of Women Voters of Portland. Here is my opening statement:

Let me start with a quote:

The cost of running for public office has escalated in the last 30 years to the point where many competent and willing citizens cannot participate as candidates. The problem extends from the presidential campaigns to those for Congress, statewide and legislative offices, to county and city races.

This is from a research report by the League of Women Voters of Oregon in 2004. And guess what? Elections have only gotten a lot more expensive since then. The system has only gotten more out of balance.

Part of the problem is that Oregon – and by extension Multnomah County – have no limit on campaign contributions. We are one of only six states with no limits.

But the problem of money in politics is not just about excessive money flows into campaigns. We all recognize that candidates need money to run. The real problem is big money – the large campaign checks. Like the checks for $50,000 and $80,000 that Phil Knight just dumped into legislative races in Oregon.

And if you think that doesn’t happen in Multnomah County, go look at the information in ORSTAR. In the past, candidates running for office in our county have gotten tens of thousands of dollars from particular individuals, businesses or entities.

Big money allows the wealthy, corporations and special interests to exercise undue influence into who gets elected and what policies get enacted.

Big money in politics is inherently anti-democratic. It makes our political system unresponsive to the will of the people. It breeds cynicism about our political institutions.

The 2004 League of Women Voter’s report concluded, “[S]omething needs to be done.”

Here’s the great news: we now can do something about it.

Measure 26-184 is a unique opportunity to get big money out of politics in Multnomah County. The measure was put on the ballot by the Multnomah County Charter Review Committee. I had the honor of serving in the Charter Review Committee, which was made up of ordinary citizens from all corners of the county. None of us depended on campaign contributions to get on the commission. And that helps explains why we were able put forward a very strong campaign finance reform measure.

Measure 26-184 does three things: (1) it limits contributions to candidates; (2) it limits independent expenditures – the money that individuals or political groups can spend supporting or attacking candidates; and (3) it sets strong disclosure requirements – specifically, it requires that political ads disclose the true identity of the funders of the ad (i.e., it makes it so that companies like Chevron can’t hide behind names like The Clear Air Committee).

Measure 26-184 will empower ordinary voters and candidates not beholden to big money. It will force candidates to spend more time listening to the concerns of voters, rather than those of a few wealthy individuals or special interests. It will make it so that a candidate with good ideas and a strong message can run a viable campaign, even if they aren't rich or well-connected.

The choices before us is clear: We can wait for Congress or the Oregon Legislature to act to get big money out of politics — and a long wait it will likely turn out to be.

Or we can act here and now by voting yes on Measure 26-184.

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