Money in Politics

Fair Elections Now

Thanks to Senator Jeff Merkley and Representatives Earl Bluemenauer and Peter DeFazio for their support of the federal Fair Elections Now Act. This is a small donor empowerment proposal that limits contributions to federal campaigns to $100. Common Cause Oregon is beginning to develop a Fair Elections Now proposal for state legislative elections. Give us a call at 503-283-1922 for more information.


Reform Rumor Control

In June 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the matching funds provision in the Arizona Clean Elections Act while upholding the underlying constitutionality of public funding as a campaign finance reform strategy. Matching funds were provided to participating candidates whose opposition spent more than the spending imits imposed on reform program participants. In other words, more money was provided for more speech through matching funds. But five members of the U.S. Supreme Court were more concerned about the possibility of chilling the spending of well-funded opponents or independent groups.


"The First Amendment's core purpose is to foster a healthy, vibrant political system full of robust discussion and debate," Justice Elena Kagan argued in her dissent. "Nothing in Arizona's anti-corruption statute, the Arizona Clean Elections Act, violates this constitutional protection. To the contrary, the Act promotes the values underlying both the First Amendment and our entire Constitution by enhancing the 'opportunity for free political discussion to the end that goverment may be responsive to the will of the people.'"


This is a disappointing decision, but remember that the court upheld public financing as a reform strategy. Also, reform programs - like the Fair Elections Now Act - do not have to including matching funds decision. Public financing reform is still a critical step in fighting back against Citizens United.


Portland's Voter-Owned Elections

Thanks to all the volunteers and allies that supported Measure 26-108 to retain Portland’s Voter-Owned Elections. This was a tough loss because we came so close, but this is a tough topic to win. For example, all but one popular vote on public funding campaign finance reform has failed since the Clean Election ballot measures in Maine and Arizona passed in 1996 and 1998. Those successful votes in the 1990's were during economic good times, indicating that the recession was a major factor in the Portland loss. Most winning Portland measure campaigns have raised $500,000, indicating the high cost of educating voters. Raising even more was recommended to win Measure 26-108 and that we came so close without that level of resources is due to your support and hard work.


The information below summarizes the problems of money in Portland politics and the improvements provided by Voter-Owned Elections. At the state level both public financing and contribution limits reform are needed.




Portland's Voter-Owned Elections legislation was enacted by the City Council in May 2005, after an 18-month process with three public hearings packed with reform supporters. A coalition representing a broad spectrum of Portlanders supported VOE including Oregon Action, OSPIRG, and the League of Women Voters of Portland.


2010 was the third Portland election cycle with Voter-Owned Elections and already we’ve seen dramatic changes: reduced special interest influence, less campaign spending, a more diverse candidate pool, more competition, and empowered Portlanders from all walks of life playing a meaningful role in electing our city leaders. Voter-Owned Elections puts Portland values of fairness and accountability into how we elect our representatives in City Hall.


For more on VOE successes:


Check out how Voter-Owned Elections improved Portland campaigns from 2006 through 2010. (This is a PDF file to accomodate some informative charts.)


Read more details about how Voter-Owned Elections improved Portland's 2008 elections.

An executive summary of the analysis of the 2008 city elections and VOE is also available.

Read more details about how Voter-Owned Elections began changing Portland politics in 2006.


Democracy Reform Oregon and its predecessor, the Money in Politics Research Action Project, analyzed historical contributions to Council members and contributions to all candidates in the 2004 elections.

*Giving and Getting: An Analysis of Campaign Contributions to 2004 Portland City Candidate. 

Voters got the ball rolling in 2004, saying "No!" to a million-dollar candidate in a campaign season where the lion’s share (69 percent) of the money candidates raised came in checks of $1,000 or more, with those big spenders representing a small number (just 7 percent) of the donors.
Historical analysis of contributions to Portland City Council members indicates domination by big business interests, particularly the real estate sector, as well as a concentration of donations from downtown and wealthier neighborhoods. In general, campaign contributions are not coming from a cross section of typical Portlanders.

*Portland City Council Contribution History and Major Trends  


During the October 30, 2003 Portland City Council session, Mayor Vera Katz said: I maintain that today the special interests have won. I hope that we all realize that the message this sends to other neighborhoods is that they all are in peril. in regard to a Northwest Portland parking plan, including a parking garage of great concern to neighborhood residents.

Portland Tribune coverage of money in Portland politics in November 2002 included the following articles: