Portland Campaign Season Begins with Spending Limits and Increased Public Involvement Due to VOE; Administrative Rigor Needed

For Immediate Release: March 5, 2008

Contact: Janice Thompson, (503) 283-1922

Portland Campaign Season Begins with Spending Limits and Increased Public Involvement Due to VOE; Administrative Rigor Needed

Voter-Owned Elections continues to improve city campaigns with a diverse set of candidates who inspired over 10,000 Portlanders to make $5 contributions so they could qualify for public financing. Many non-participating candidates are also agreeing to self-imposed spending and contribution caps that help meet reform goals of reducing special interest influence and bringing the cost of campaigns within reach of more potential candidates.

“Record numbers of people are now playing a meaningful role in candidate selection because of Voter-Owned Elections,” said Janice Thompson, executive director of Democracy Reform Oregon. “Also, special interest influence will be reduced even on non-participating candidates since so many of them are agreeing to the spending caps that apply to program participants.”

This is a huge improvement over the last time Portlanders saw open seats on the Council. “In 2004 there was record fundraising with 69 percent of the money candidates received arriving as checks of $1,000 or more, with those big spenders representing just 7 percent of the donors. Now, every one of the $5 donors is equally important, whether they’re wealthy or not,” said Thompson.

Seven candidates have now been certified to receive a capped amount of public funding for their races, with five of those vying for the seat vacated by Sam Adams and one for Erik Sten’s soon to be vacant position. While Auditor Gary Blackmer has also certified Sho Dozono in the mayor’s race, valid concerns have surfaced about whether or not current program rules allow for major private contributions during the qualifying period – such as the Dozono poll. One interpretation of the code is that limits on in-kind contributions apply during the qualifying period regardless of the onset of a candidacy. Program administrators evidently disagreed.

“We respect Sho Dozono’s decision to run using the Voter-Owned Elections option and recognize that election administration is a tough job that in this case was complicated by reporting delays,” said Thompson. “Allowing a candidate to opt into the program after having received some level of exploratory private support may be worthy of future consideration, but current rules do not appear to allow the receipt of such a major contribution during the qualifying period.”

Continued clarification and improvement of the reform program is a key role for the Citizens Campaign Commission. “The Commission should plan on working on additional safeguards and administrative guidance to ensure the effectiveness of the reform program,” said Thompson.

The Dozono campaign has stated its willingness to not request matching funds should any privately funded candidates exceed the campaign-spending limit by the value of the poll. “This is a step towards preserving the spirit of the law, even if we disagree with the Auditor on his interpretation of the letter of the code,” said Thompson.

# # #

Note: Democracy Reform Oregon became Common Cause Oregon in August 2009.