Our communities face urgent issues.
Across Oregon, we struggle with the disparate impacts of an ongoing pandemic, wildfire displacement, economic hardship, racism and more.
We desperately need elected leaders who understand these struggles firsthand – those who come from impacted communities themselves and who share our lived experiences. But who can afford to run for office? And if elected, who can afford to serve in office?
Most often, it takes extra resources to serve in elected office. Many local school board and town council positions are only nominally paid or are entirely volunteer based. That effectively rules out many who need to work full-time for a living.
Similarly, Oregon state legislators earn part-time salaries; however, the work is more than full-time when the Legislature is in session, and often quite demanding when it’s not, making it tough to balance with another job. Just this year, three legislators stepped down because they could not afford to cover the cost of life essentials such as child care.
Oregonians can change this.
Unite Oregon Action’s candidate school is one way we’re making the change we need. We launched RIPPLE (Refugee, Immigrant, People of Color Power-Building, Leadership & Education) to encourage immigrants, refugees, and Black, Indigenous, People of Color to run for public office and shape the policies that affect them to create a just and more equitable Oregon.
This work is critical, but it’s not enough – we must change the cost of running and serving in leadership. That’s why both Unite Oregon and Common Cause are working to change the role of money in our democracy.
We need a comprehensive set of reforms:
First, we need to set limits on campaign contributions. No one should be able to bankroll a candidate’s campaign.
Second, since constitutionally, we can’t limit spending by donors acting independently of candidates, we need strong transparency measures so that voters can know who’s really behind every advertisement or mailer trying to influence us.
Most importantly, we need to give candidates a way to raise enough money to compete without relying on big special interests. Small-dollar matching programs, like the one now used in Portland, work well for this purpose.
As things stand now, money has an outsized influence on our democracy. Only the wealthiest among us (or those with wealthy backing) have much chance of running for office, getting elected, and serving in elected leadership. Most of the rest of us do not have the resources to run and govern.
We need leadership that money can’t buy.