May 24th, 2010 5:33 pm | by HANK STERN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, City Hall

Common Cause vs. Portland Business Alliance

Portland public financing for elections

The City Council on Wednesday afternoon will take up a resolution that would put publicly financed elections on Portland's November ballot.

The Portland Business Alliance has come out against that idea, prompting an angry reaction from Commissioner Amanda Fritz to the PBA's take. Joining Fritz, the only non-incumbent to win election to council with public financing, in that outrage is Common Cause Oregon.

Common Cause Oregon today called the PBA's position a "special interest power grab by lobbyists, big businesses and downtown developers." And Common Cause also noted that the PBA stance is a flip from an earlier position when the PBA wanted the council to put the public financing question on the ballot.

Here's what else Common Cause Oregon executive director Janice Thompson had to say in a news release:
In a special interest power grab by lobbyists, big businesses and downtown developers, the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) seeks 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," said Janice Thompson, Executive Director of Common Cause Oregon. "Before Voter-Owned Elections were in place, the PBA and its corporate members made major campaign contributions - much larger than any regular Portland family could afford - to guarantee their access to City Hall. By denying a popular vote PBA can return to those days when big buck donations put pressure on elected officials."

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 are about to honor their commitment this week by referring the reform program to a vote of the people in this November 2010 election.

Now the PBA has dropped any pretense of concern for the voice of everyday Portlanders in city government with this flip flopping demand that the City Council ignore its commitment for a popular vote. Their latest demand once again exposes for all to see that the PBA's real interest has always been to hold onto power and exert insider influence.

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," continued Thompson. "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.

Common Cause Oregon urges the City Council to stay the course and feels confident that they will honor their commitment for this popular vote on retaining Voter-Owned Elections.
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