Portland Poised for Big Boost to Democracy Reform Movement

Portland Poised for Big Boost to Democracy Reform Movement

Portland, OR's City Council will vote next week on a plan to amplify the voices of small-dollar political donors

Vote Expected Next Week on Public Financing Plan

Some good things – REALLY good things – are happening in the continuing battle to rein in the power of big money in politics and otherwise strengthen our democracy, even as reformers continue to brace for battles with the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.

In Portland, OR, Common Cause and a diverse coalition of allies are on the cusp of a major victory; the City Council is all but certain to vote next week in favor of their plan to finance future local campaigns from a base of small dollar donations from individuals, supplemented by public funds.

Three of five city commissioners went on record in support of the plan this week, clearing it for passage. It is crafted to give Oregon’s largest city a council that better reflects the city’s diverse population by empowering small dollar donors. Participating candidates will agree to accept no more than $250 from a single donor; the first $50 of each contribution will be matched, 6-1, from a special public fund, so a $50 gift will be worth $350 and a $250 gift will be worth $550 to the candidate.

The upcoming victory in Portland follows important Election Day wins for public financing proposals in the state of South Dakota, Howard County, MD and Berkeley, CA. and voter approval of more than a dozen other democracy reform measures in other states and localities. Together, the results indicate a nationwide groundswell of popular support for practical steps to break partisan gridlock and make government work for everyone, not just the rich and well-connected.

The victories include:

  • Passage by Alaskans of automatic voter registration (AVR), which will put eligible citizens on the voter rolls automatically when they do business with motor vehicle offices. In other states, AVR has triggered dramatic increases in voter turnout.
  • Approval in Maine and in Benton County OR (Corvallis) of ranked-choice voting, allowing voters to designate their second and third choices in races for state and local offices. The ranking system guarantees that the ultimate winner of any election will be the choice of a majority – not just a plurality – of the voters.
  • Passage by Missouri voters of a $2,600 limit on contributions to judicial and state candidates. Though it garnered support from 70 percent of the voters, the contribution limit already is being challenged in court.
  • Approval of major ethics reform measures by voters in Rhode Island and the City of San Francisco.
  • Passage by California and Washington State voters of initiatives calling on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC and permitting sensible limits on political spending.
  • Passage by voters in Sacramento, CA of an initiative creating an independent citizens’ commission to draw new local election districts after each decennial census. A similar statewide commission has given California voters the most competitive set of congressional elections in the nation.

Common Cause led some of these victories and our activists had at least a hand in many others. They are hard evidence that despite the bitter partisanship and cynicism surrounding the 2016 presidential race, Americans have the will and the ability to attack the problems threatening our democracy.