The Portland city commission heard from Portlanders this afternoon and into the evening, urging the commission to pass Open and Accountable Elections reform. Policy experts, advocates, and members of the public spoke to how this citizen funded elections proposal would give everyday voters a voice in Portland, create more diverse and representative government, and allow Portland elected officials to focus on voters instead of big money donors. Of the roughly 60 people who spoke at the hearing, all voiced support for the reform.
Open and Accountable Elections reform would create a citizen funded elections program where small-dollar contributions to citywide candidates are matched with public funds. Candidates who opt into the program would not be able to accept contributions above $250 from any single contributor. The proposed ordinance includes strong enforcement and anti-fraud provisions, and allocates resources for administrating the program. Similar programs have passed and been proven successful in states and cities across the country, including New York City, Los Angeles, Connecticut, Maine, and Arizona.
“Portland is a better city when we bring all voices into the democratic process,” says Kate Titus, executive director of Common Cause Oregon. “At a time of unprecedented public frustration with money in politics, we can do better. Here’s a reform that’s been proven to make a real difference. The City Council should act to implement it here.”
Amanda Manjarrez, advocacy director for the Coalition of Communities of Color, says this reform allows “more people of color the opportunity to run for office by addressing some of the major barriers head on.” She explains: “Oftentimes, the first thing a candidate is asked to do is sit down and make a list of everyone they know, so they can call those people and ask them for money. This excludes some of our most talented community leaders who don’t run because they don’t believe they can raise enough money to support a viable campaign.”
Before Thursday’s hearing, an open letter from 30 local civic and public interest organizations was sent to Mayor Hales, Auditor Hull Caballero, and city commissioners urging them to support the reform legislation. The diverse coalition of groups, A Voice for All Portland, includes organizations focused on democracy reform, civil rights, environmental protection, workers’ rights, racial equality, small business advocacy, students, civic participation, and community organizing.