Many communities face barriers to their voices being heard in our democracy. One in three Portlanders are people of color, and yet we have only had two people of color ever serve on our City Council. The majority of our population is female and we have had just seven women on the City Council. And sixty percent of our city’s population lives east of 47th Ave, but only two commissioners have come from these neighborhoods
One major reason for this is the high costs of running for office. Candidates are forced to spend time raising money from a small group of donors. In the 2012 elections, sixty percent of all money raised came from just a few hundred donors giving over $1000 each. And they gave three times as much as the six thousand small donors giving less than $250. Candidates today need networks of wealthy donors to run for office. That prevents everyday people from getting elected and representing their own communities.
We need Open and Accountable Elections. Under this reform, if a candidate agrees to only take small donations from individuals, their small donations are matched and amplified. This reform ensures that every Portlander–regardless of their background—has a set at the table and a voice in our democracy
Small donor matching has been successful all across our country. New York City has had it for over thirty years, and Maine, Connecticut, Seattle, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, and Montgomery County Maryland have seen this reform work. Portland could too.
Small donor matching changes how candidates campaign. Because donations from ordinary people are amplified, candidates have more incentive to campaign in all neighborhoods. That means candidates spend more time interacting with renters, students, working families, people of color, and Portlanders of every background.
Small donor matching also allows more people to run for office. Big money acts as a barrier to candidates from low-income communities. But if we do not need networks of wealthy donors to run for office, people of all backgrounds can participate in our elections. The people with the most talent—not just the best connections–should be able to serve our city in public office.
Open and Accountable Elections is how we engage more people in our elections, and how we make sure that every person has a voice in our democracy.
Our elections are dominated by big donors. But we can restore balance to our democracy. If we match small contributions from ordinary Portlanders, every person can have a voice in our community.
How Open and Accountable Elections Works
Our democracy can be put back in balance
- Candidates for mayor, commissioner, or auditor must agree to not take any donation over $250 per election, and to only take donations from individuals.
- Donations under $50 are matched six-to-one by the city, as long as the donors live in Portland, are over eighteen years old, and can give under federal and state law
- Spending caps keep the costs down. Mayoral candidates cannot spend more than $380k in the primary and $570k in a general election. Commissioner or auditor candidates cannot spend more than $180k in a primary election and $270k in a general election.
Our democracy can be responsible
- Candidates must prove they have community support to qualify for the program. Mayoral candidates must raise $5000 from 500 Portlanders. Commission or auditor candidates must raise $2500 from 250 Portlanders
- Throughout the program, all candidates must disclose their contributions and their expenses more frequently than they do now
- Candidates cannot use public funds to travel out of state, to throw expensive parties, or give the funds to another candidate. They cannot hire their family members, and they cannot go into debt.
- Candidates must provide receipts to see a donation matched
- Regulators have ten days to verify each donation
- The verification process is transparent, fair, and open for the public to review
Our democracy can be a budget priority
- The program is capped at 0.2% of the general fund, or $1 million a year
- Public funds are protected, because mayoral candidates cannot receive more than $304,000 for a primary election and $456,000 for a general election in matching funds. Commission candidates or auditor candidates are capped at $144,000 in matching funds for a primary election, and $216,000 for a general election
- There is no tax increase planned for this program
Our democracy can be fair
- Violators and law-breakers can be fined up to $10,000
- Independent expenditures and SuperPACs must be more transparent, and must disclose their donations and expenses on a faster timeline than they do now
- An oversight commission will evaluate the program and can continually make recommendations to adjust for new dynamics
Open and Accountable Elections can make democracy work for all of us. Join the many community-based advocates and support this reform for our city.
For more information, visit to www.AVoiceForAllPortland.org.
Or contact Daniel Lewkow, Political Director for Common Cause Oregon at 503-283-1877 at Dlewkow@commoncause.org
 “In Portland, Elections 600 Big Donors Tip the Scales” The Sightline Institute. May 27, 2016. http://www.sightline.org/2016/05/27/in-portland-elections-600-big-donors-tip-the-campaign-scales/