December 14, 2016

Press Release: Portland City Council Votes to Improve Democracy and Make Government More Accountable to Everyday People

A Voice for All Portland coalition reacts to passage of the Open & Accountable Elections reform

The Portland city council passed “Open & Accountable Elections” today, a reform that will curb the power of wealthy donors in city elections, make it easier for all Portlanders—regardless of their wealth or connections—to run for office and ultimately ensure city government is more representative and accountable to the voters.

Open & Accountable Elections empowers candidates to run for office without taking big campaign contributions, instead fueling their campaigns with small-dollar contributions from local city residents, matched with limited public funds. Candidates who participate in the Portland program must agree to accept no more than $250 from any single contributor. Small campaign contributions to participating candidates will be matched 6-to-1 up to the first $50, making every voice count and encouraging candidates to appeal to a broad base of voters. The matching funds system is voluntary, but includes stronger accountability and transparency requirements for all candidates, whether or not they choose to participate.

Portland joins cities, counties, and states across the country that are passing reform legislatively and by the ballot box in response to concerns from across the political spectrum over money’s power in politics and a lack of action at the federal level to address the problem. Cities and states that already implemented or recently passed a form of citizen funded elections includes Connecticut, Maine, Arizona, South Dakota, New York City, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Seattle, Montgomery County (MD), and Howard County (MD).

Similar programs around the country have proven to increase participation by small donors—especially among lower income and minority neighborhoods. They have also resulted in legislative bodies that are more representative of the communities they are elected to represent.

Ahead of today’s vote, over 30 civic and public interest organizations representing tens of thousands of Portlanders joined together to call on the City Council to pass Open and Accountable Elections reform. The groups representing diverse constituencies such as Portland’s women, people of color, working families, immigrant communities, small businesses, young people, seniors, LGBTQ individuals, and other underrepresented groups were united behind passing this reform in order to give everyone an equal say and greater opportunity to engage in our democracy.

The diverse coalition’s engagement led to hundreds of calls and letters to city council members, dozens of members of the community testifying at public hearings in support of the reform, and social media in support of the reform from across the country 

Continue reading for statements from member organizations and allies of the coalition:

From Kate Titus, Executive Director of Common Cause Oregon:

“Portlanders don’t mourn, we organize. We’ve had enough of big-money politics. We’re opening up a pathway for more representative local government, reflective of and responsive to all our diverse communities.”

From Amanda Manjarrez, Advocacy Director, Coalition of Communities of Color

“Communities of Color strongly support this reform because it amplifies community voices and will give more people of color the opportunity to successfully run for office.  By taking big money out of the equation, we knocked down a major barrier for candidates of color getting elected.”

From Frances Dyke, President of the League of Women Voters of Portland

“It’s clear all across the country that the big-money status quo of our politics is a problem. We don’t have to wait for Washington, D.C, to act. The Portland City Council took action to reduce the power of money and increase participation in local politics”

From Jesse Beason, Board Member of Color PAC

“Our city government should look like the people it represents.  Simple as that.  This reform gives candidates from all backgrounds a better path not only to run for office—but to win. They don’t need a rolodex of rich people, just the support of everyday Portlanders.”

From Charlie Fisher, State Director of Oregon State Public Interest Group

“This is going to grow our democracy.  Now candidates will have an incentive to campaign among all communities, not just the wealthy ones.  Open and Accountable Elections will engage more people in our elections, and make sure that everyone has a voice in our government”

From Susan Mottet, Senior Legislative Campaign Strategist, Every Voice

“This election we witnessed anger boil over from Americans frustrated with a government that doesn’t work for them—all the while, Portlanders were taking matters into their own hands. Because of this public support and the leadership of Commissioners Fritz and Novick and Mayor Hales, Portland has now joined the millions of voters who said yes to money-in-politics reforms nationwide this year to show the nation that we don’t need to wait on Washington, DC to act to fix our broken campaign finance system.”