In a special interest power grab by lobbyists, big businesses and downtown developers, the Portland Business Alliance tried to kill Voter-Owned Elections and deny Portland voters the right to vote on this important campaign reform.
Voter-Owned Elections is reducing campaign spending and special interest influence. Before Voter-Owned Elections, the Business Alliance and its corporate members made major campaign contributions – much larger than any regular Portland family could afford – to guarantee their access to City Hall.
The PBA has made their interests abundantly clear. In 2005, they opposed Voter-Owned Elections reform claiming that it should only be enacted with a vote of the people. The City Council adopted the reform and pledged a popular vote in five years. They honored that commitment last month by referring the reform program to a vote of the people in the upcoming November General Election.
Voter-Owned Elections gives everyday Portlanders a genuine voice in choosing their leaders in stark contrast to the past when campaign contributions were routinely $1,000 or even $10,000 or more. Because of the reform program, overall campaign spending is lower while voters benefit from increased discussion of city issues due to more candidates.
Special interest influence is reduced, even for nonparticipating candidates, because their contributions are now typically $500 or less.
Due to Voter-Owned Elections, we haven’t seen a repeat of the record spending such as the $1 million dollar mayoral race in 2004. Since the reform took effect, many of the city’s candidates and elected officials have agreed to cap their campaign spending and limit the size of the contributions they accept even if they didn’t participate in the reform program.
With Voter Voter-Owned Elections, candidates like Amanda Fritz can run and win with grassroots support from everyday Portlanders. Moving forward, Voter-Owned Elections will mean that the candidates with the best experience, values, and ideas can actually run and win. Before the way to win was to have access to deep-pocketed donors, and candidates had to spend more time courting large contributors than talking to actual voters.
As the opposite experiences of Amanda Fritz and Jesse Cornett demonstrate, Voter-Owned Elections doesn’t guarantee any outcome. It just frees candidates to make their case directly to real people instead of spending all their time courting powerful inside interests.
Democracy is better served when citizens have a voice in who can run and when candidates have the ability to spend their time talking directly with voters rather than raising money from big donors.
Janice Thompson is executive director of Common Cause Oregon.