May 21st, 2010 5:33 pm | by HANK STERN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, City Hall

Portland Business Alliance to Council: Kill Public Financing Now

Amanda Fritz

Days before City Council is scheduled to consider putting public campaign financing on the November ballot, the Portland Business Alliance has weighed in with a letter (PDF) to Mayor Sam Adams and the rest of the council.

The PBA's message in that letter? Stop the 5-year-old public financing program now rather than wait for another election cycle.

"In 2005, then-Commissioner Erik Sten led the effort to authorize the use of public funds to finance campaigns for city council, mayoral and auditor races," wrote PBA president and CEO Sandra McDonough. "Since council adoption, that initiative has cost the city over $1.5 million for publicly subsidized campaigns. That expenditure has resulted in fraudulent revenue use by one candidate, and the election of a grand total of one incumbent and one new commissioner ... we urge council to sunset this program now, rather than wait for another election cycle."

Since the only one still around from that trio of candidate examples cited by the PBA is Commissioner Amanda Fritz —who was elected to her first term in 2008— we asked her today what she thought of the PBA's letter.

Fritz said the PBA's request in effect her asks her to break a promise, which was that she would give Portland voters a chance to decide at the ballot box whether to continue with the public financing system. The council on Wednesday will consider an ordinance to do just that.

"I am disappointed," Fritz said of the PBA's letter. "They don't acknowledge the benefits of having a public choice."

She also took issue with the premise of a PBA statement that taxpayer money has been wasted because it's been spent on public campaign finance rather than other programs. Fritz said that as a commissioner who got the job thanks to public financing, she was the one who saved taxpayer money by insisting Portland treat its water through ultraviolet rather than more expensive filtration.

She also rejected any assertion that the lousy recent election performance of publicly financed candidate Jesse Cornett would make Portland voters more likely to reject public financing.

"The system was not designed to defeat incumbents," said Fritz, who won an open seat in 2008. "It was designed to give every Portlander an opportunity."

"The system has worked well," she said. "I'd like voters to decide whether it's right."
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