January 7th, 2011 5:33 pm | by HANK STERN News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, City Hall

Ex-Candidate's New Year Resolution=Bring Back Public Campaign Financing to Portland

Spencer Burton

Former Portland City Council candidate Spencer Burton struck us during his unsuccessful 2010 campaign as an intriguing candidate.

Burton failed to qualify for public financing as one of the hopefuls challenging the re-election of Commissioner Dan Saltzman. But we wrote before the May primary that Burton "surprised us with his knowledge of Portland affairs, his common-sense approach and his of-the-people message. He reminded us why we like democratic elections in the first place."

Now Burton, a 53-year-old stonemason, is back.

In the wake of Saltzman winning re-election in May and Portlanders in November voting not to renew public campaign financing of city elections, Burton is announcing an effort to file a petition seeking enough signatures to put the question of public financing back to Portland voters on the November 2012 ballot.

That will be a challenge to gather the 29,490 valid signatures of registered Portland voters so soon after voters weighed in on the question. But Burton says it's his new year's resolution to "take back our democracy from the corrupting influence of big money" and that he's confident a campaign with support from the Green Party and other coalition partners can reverse the narrow defeat last November of public financing.

"This election cycle was very reactionary," Burton said this morning. "I think in a different environment this is going to pass."

"I thought it vital we not wait," said Burton, adding he doesn't plan to run again for council unless public campaign financing (referred to as "voter-owned elections" by supporters of the concept) is in place.

Here's the entire statement Burton put out announcing the initiative effort:
My New Year's Resolution is to take back our democracy from the corrupting influence of big money. I want you to join me.

Please join us in the New Year helping establish local voter owned elections for Portland.

I am concerned about a recent Supreme Court ruling called Citizens United and the impact it will have on Portland. This decision allows corporations to spend unlimited sums of money to influence our elections. That is why I filed a Citizens Initiative Petition to put a new Portland Voter Owned Elections Law on the 2012 General Election Ballot. We need a public campaign finance option now more than ever.

To ensure the success of this measure, we are engaging a broad coalition of Portland community groups to gather the signatures necessary to put this law back on the ballot. In the challenging environment of the last election, a similar law almost won. It fell short by less than 1% of the votes. With greater public education, I am confident that a new Portland Voter Owned Elections Law will pass.

The corrupting influence of big money, at all levels of government, has wasted billions of our tax dollars. In Portland, the influence of big money has affected decisions on the South West waterfront condo development, the denial of a new downtown for Linnton, the soccer stadium agreement, Rose Quarter planning and Portland Development Commission deals around the city. Our elected officials who make these decisions should not be controlled by wealthy special interests and downtown developers. These are people who expect to be paid back in public money through city contracts, jobs, and the selective enforcement of a variety of government regulations.

By contrast, Portland Voter Owned Elections is a responsible investment in good government that will save the city money. This law ensures that politicians are accountable to voters instead of special interest contributors.

There are smart, dedicated people who want to earn the chance to serve their community but do not have access to the money needed to run for political office. Public campaign financing levels the playing field for small business owners, people of color, and women who wish to run for public office.

Candidates must demonstrate broad community support to qualify by earning the financial endorsement of 1,000 or more registered Portland voters. Once they qualify, they may not spend or raise money beyond the public campaign financing they receive. Frequent disclosure requirements and strict financial oversight ensure candidates' integrity.

We need champions of the common man and woman representing us at City Hall who can give voice to our hopes and dreams for Portland. The public funding of campaigns allows us to take back our elections and makes grassroots democracy possible.
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