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Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Put "clean money" up for a popular vote

Today's been a weird day so far. For one thing, I found myself agreeing with the editorial board of The Oregonian this morning. They think that the City of Portland's proposed "clean money" system of financing political campaigns out of property tax dollars is a bad idea. We disagree about the reasons, but we agree on the bottom line: This concept is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can't afford this. We need cops. We need jails. We need schools. We need 911 operators. We need jobs.

Plus, we already have a very transparent campaign finance disclosure system in Portland, thanks to Commissioner Erik Sten and the city auditor. When the candidates file their contribution and expenditure reports, they're now posted to the internet the same night. Granted, that system could be improved -- an Excel-based spreadsheet system on the internet would help the public put two and two together much more quickly and easily -- but we could do that for a lot less than the estimated $1.7 million a year that "clean money" would require.

Nonetheless, the City Council, led by Mr. Big Ideas Sten, is determined to push his plan forward. Which leads me to make this challenge:

If it's such a good idea, gentlemen, why don't you put "clean money" on the ballot as soon as possible, and see how it does?

Comments (17)

you're sounding more conservative daily. you haven't been listening to the radio have you?

so mr bog, how should we push for that? i agree with you, but need some suggestions other than ranting and railing about it in order to move forward. should we call the city council? should we email them? should be start a PAC to fight this? suggestions please. thank you.

disclosure hasn't been shown to take the influence of money out of the process, so I'm unconvinced that's an acceptable alternative.

And perhaps there's an upfront cost--but what if that cost is more than outweighed by the savings from Councilmembers no longer feeling pressure to vote for projects or funding they don't necessarily like? All it would take is one million-dollar "kickback" project per election that doesn't happen as a result of clean money, and we're ahead of the game.

Same-day disclosure, with bloggers all over it, is only one election old. We're yet to see what effect it (and the Potter victory and the indictment of Mr. Moyer) has on future elections.

And no, the $1.7 million is not an upfront investment. It is the cost projection per year, forever.

Brett, at least two members of the council read this blog fairly regularly. And someone could check to see what it takes to refer a city ordinance to the voters. I suspect there's a minimum number of signatures required.

You could call the mayor or members of the council yourself, if you think that would have an influence.

Lars, I don't listen to your show much these days. Way too many commercials, buddy!

In fact, this does go on the ballot with an automatic referral after two cycles using the new system. This means that voters can make their decision based on actual experience with the system rather than a sound-bite ballot measure campaign.

[Full disclosure - I chair the City Club committee advocating for this proposal. More info a]

with an automatic referral after two cycles using the new system

Nice try. Not good enough.

What is the public going to "learn" that it doesn't already know about this concept? We don't need a $3.5 million "education" about "clean money." (The current council members would like to "learn," though, how nice it is to run a fat campaign and not to have raise any more money.)

Let's just vote it up or down, fair and square, before we do it. I thought that was how we did things around here.

The problem with the auto-referral after two cycles is that it doesn't address the political reality, which is that questions have been raised, and will continue to be raised, about it being passed by Council at a time when it will benefit its sponsors.

Whether you believe in that's the motivation for the timing, and for not referring it to voters outright, is irrelevant, in my opinion (and I'm sure that of others). Part of what this proposal seeks to fight is the perception of impropriety in addition to its actuality. In that same light, then, at the very elast the appearance of impropriety when it comes to benefitting the sponsors, the measure needs to be referred from the start.

Wow did I butcher proper English in that last comment.

I think the proposition that this benefits those voting for it is absolutely wrong. The current system all but guarantees an incumbent reelection. This system will create more and better-funded challengers. All the current Council members have the ability to easily raise the amount of funding they would get from the system.

Explain to me again how they benefit personally?

Chris, I think the difficulty is the basic sequence "City Council votes for measure -> Current City Councillors get money from City." That causal relation can't help but look bad, even if the sponsors are on the side of angels or if the measure actually hurts their re-election chances.

It's exactly this sort of perceived conflict of interest that cries out to be sent to a higher or independent authority for a decision. In the case of this measure, the only other proper authority available is the citizenry. That route is somewhat less certain of passage. :-/

The auto-referral is a good idea, but it doesn't fully fix this problem. The only way for Council to pass this themselves and come out untarnished is if any Councillor who votes for it declines to run for re-election next cycle. I'm curious to see if they think it's such a good idea to ensure this is implemented that it's worth getting tarnished over, or worth steppng aside over.

Actually, I just had another idea. Amend the measure to phase in position-by-position as vacancies arise. Each time an incumbent declines to run, the public financing system becomes operational for the vacated seat. (Does not apply to seats with appointed incumbents running for re-election, only to seats that are truly without any incumbent.) Change the auto-referral to occur at the general election following the 10th public-financed seat election.

That should get rid of the conflict of interest, should have a (relatively) minor impact on costs, and probably will give us a concurrent set of experimental and control groups to indicate if it really works as hoped.

How's that, Jack? Is that an experiment worth paying for?

I really don't care about people's motives (although I have my suspicions). It's a bad idea for these financially troubled times, even if the motivation is totally pure.

The public clearly would vote it down. It would not be close. And therefore the council should not adopt it, period.

Jack, do you have access to some polling I haven't seen? The last time Portland looked at this as the statewide measure 6, it passed by 58% here.

I don't think it's purely a pocketbook issue. Tom Potter's budget process is showing that when you really take a look at it, you can find savings without cutting core services. The budget teams have found ways to make their required cuts, preserve front line services, AND put in the budget dollars for Voter Owned Elections.

I have access to many people who ask me to help them with their income taxes, and when you ask them if they want to designate $3 to the Presidential Campaign Fund, they always say no. Always. Often with unsolicited comments about the absurdity of such a proposition. You add in the Lars-ies and the West Hills folks who like the current "system," and I think "clean money" is dead in the water at the polls.

Of course, theer's only one way to find out...

As for the glorious budget cuts, give me a break. We still have too few cops, way too little jail space, crumbling schools, a stagnant economy, a meth epidemic, police stations closed at night and on weekends, a downtown full of beggars, and virtually no prosecution of property crime. When you've got those fixed, bring me Erik's Latest Toy and I'll take a look at it.

The city council will be hearing arguments on the clean money proposal tomorrow, April 7th, at 2 PM time certain. All interested parties should show up and testify.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Put "clean money" up for a popular vote:

» Council Should Refer 'Voter-Owned Elections' To Voters from The One True b!X's PORTLAND COMMUNIQUE
While we disagree with Jack Bogdanski's opposition to the Clean Money/Voter-Owned Elections proposal from Auditor Gary Blackmer and Commissioner Erik Sten, we agree with his process position: City Coun... [Read More]


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