This morning, Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick joined Commissioner Amanda Fritz in approving Open and Accountable Elections Portland, supported by a broad coalition of Portland groups that came together to support the measure. Starting with the city’s 2020 elections, Portland will join cities and states across the United States and Canada in empowering voters to have an equal voice in local elections.
Open and Accountable Elections Portland will allow candidates for city offices to opt in to stricter campaign finance rules, including not accepting campaign contributions of more than $250 dollars. Portlanders will then generate a public match for contributing to that candidate’s campaign. For example, your $10 support of your favorite candidate will become $70, and your $50 will become $350.
This system will restore balance to local elections also by strengthening the voices of regular Portlanders, allowing regular people to run for office, even when they don’t have a network of wealthy friends or family to bankroll a campaign. It will set the city on a people-powered course rather than one directed by big-money special interests.
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As it stands now, big donors have outsized influence in the Rose City’s elections. Just 400 wealthy individuals played an important role in financing the 2016 Mayoral race, and just 600 big donors drowned out regular Portlanders in 2012 races. But thanks to a diverse coalition that voiced its support for the reform (see here, here, here, here, and here), that dynamic will change.
Come 2020, a dozen regular Portlanders with just tens of dollars each to give could be as valuable as one wealthier donor with hundreds to give. And candidates who opt into the program will be able to run competitive campaigns apart from the fancy-dinner circuit, instead prioritizing more grassroots events like house parties and town halls to earn voters’ support. Everyday Portlanders will see more of local candidates, and potential local candidates without rolodexes of wealthy friends will be more likely to venture to run.
We look forward to seeing a people-powered city election in 2020.