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Friday, April 8, 2005

Why you shouldn't get to vote on "clean money"

Bix has got a great post up on yesterday's Portland City Council meeting on "clean money," or whatever they're now calling the proposal to fund local political campaigns with property tax dollars. It's pretty clear from the comments that the commssioners made that it's going to be passed, and that it's not going to be referred to the voters by the Council before Commissioners Sten, Saltzman, and Leonard all get a crack at running for re-election on a pot of public funds.

In the course of the discussion, the commissioners pooh-poohed an immediate public vote on the proposal. The voters shouldn't get to vote on this, they said, and the reasons given reveal a very, shall we say, interesting view of their constituents. As reported by Bix:

On the matter of referring the proposal to the voters, Leonard said that the Founding Fathers had "outright rejected the notion of initiative and referral" out of the concern that "demogoguery could rule". He said that people elected to office are elected to make decisions....

Adams also opposed "throwing this into a campaign environment where it absolutely can get eaten alive by special interest campaign contributions" -- meaning referring it to voters. He did express support for having voters "check in on it at some future date", but did note that the current Council cannot bind future Councils to that course of action....

On the referral matter, Potter said he didn't think you can take everything to the voters. When Portlanders elected him, he argued, they said that "they believed in candidates who accepted less money"....

Wow. Portlanders, if we don't force this onto the ballot with a petition drive as soon as it's passed, we may never get to vote on it.

Comments (31)

noblesse oblige

(noh-BLES oh-BLEEZH) The belief that the wealthy and privileged are obliged to help those less fortunate. From French, meaning “nobility obligates.”

Certainly, the citizens do not know what is best for them. Is it time to storm the Kremlin?

The Sten-Blackmer proposal calls for referring this thing to the voters after a few election cycles, but yesterday the council was quick to point out that they "could not bind future councils" to the referral recommendation.

"throwing this into a campaign environment where it absolutely can get eaten alive by special interest campaign contributions"

In other words, "We know it would lose in a referendum, but you voters are too dumb to know what you really want."

The establishment knowing better than the dumb voters is an Oregon tradition. How many times have the voters in this state, city and county expressed their will at the polls only to have it overturned in courts, ignored, tied up in red tape or subjected to an end run? The only valid vote around here anymore is the one you cast with your feet. Check job growth in Clark County and school enrollments in the suburbs versus Portland and you will see how people are voting.

Dave, how many signatures of Portland registered voters can you get to put "clean money" on the ballot? I'll bet I can get 200 at least. If 100 people could do that, it would go up for a vote.

Why not make it a two-fer?

By the time you convince someone to sign the referendum they'll already be in the mood to sign a recall petition.

Jack, I'm confused. You've previously said that it's not any possible ethical problems with "voter-owned" elections that bother you, but that you think the money could be better spent on other things. Something about this tugged at my memory, and I just figured out what it was.

I checked Google (that insufferable know-it-all) which gave me "Knucklers", from Dec. 15: "I know many Portlanders think that a major league baseball stadium is a waste of money. But so is public financing of political campaigns, which the City Council is about to approve at a tab of $1.3 million a year. For the record, at 5% interest, $1.3 million a year for 30 years would raise roughly $20 million in immediate cash toward the local $150 million needed to build the ballpark."

So, am I correct in thinking that, to you, a public subsidy for baseball is a higher and better use of $1.3 million annually than improved 911 response, but that public financing of city campaigns is not? Am I also correct in thinking that you'd like any baseball subsidy plan that might arise (unlikely as that is now) put to a vote of the people?

As I've noted elsewhere, I'm not a Portland resident so I'm just an interested bystander in this discussion. But as a bystander, I have to say I'm puzzled that you don't view an investment in civic virtue more favorably than an investment in civic entertainment. What am I missing here?

This whole thing does not pass the smell test, like trotting out noted financial expert Mark Gardiner to speak in behalf after he had the gall to shake down weak-minded Vera for $35M at PGE Park?

You know as well as I do, like almost everything they want, it will happen in the back rooms of City Hall and it will get shoved down our throats. At least when it happens Home and Gerdling/Edlen will save their $5K contributions to Randy, Tram and Erik each cycle.

Since this is the only thing I have seen Blackmer push for what is he getting out of it? Sorry, I am against public funding of baseball stadiums also, so that's a strawman.

I'm not sure how many signatures I could get, but I'm pretty sure I could enlist gatherers and gathering locations. Considering that the Portland Business Alliance says it should be referred, I think that many of the member businesses would make petitions available to folks who frequent their locations.

"back rooms of City Hall?"

Did they move this meeting out of the public chamber? Did they prevent it from being shown on cable access? Has it not been proposed and on the table since December, as Jack noted?

City Council is the legislative body for the City of Portland. Why to some the members aren't allowed--nay, CHARGED WITH--the responsibility to enact ordinances on the public's behalf, I have no idea.

Sten's point is not that "the voters" will mess things up, but that special interest organizations will exercise exactly the undue influence supported by access to spending cash, that the ordinance hopes to remove from campaigns.

Sorry, Steve, I didn't mean that to be a strawman in this argument. I'm not trying to convince anybody of anything in this thread. (Bystander, ya know.) I'm just curious what Jack's thinking is on this.

special interest organizations will exercise exactly the undue influence supported by access to spending cash, that the ordinance hopes to remove from campaigns

By this logic, every election to date has been invalid. Perhaps Opie should resign, and then run again when his new system cleans everything up.

I don't know how major league baseball got into this -- it's dead in the water at the moment. But no, I don't put Portland baseball ahead of 911 as a priority. I do, however, put it ahead of "clean money," by whatever name called. And I'd support putting it up for a vote.

Sorry, by back rooms I don't know how to describe things that the public is against (light rail funding, convention center, etc.) and that would fail a popular vote. Usually they listen politely and then do what they want anyways.

Golly I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but I can almost guarantee that you will not be able to gather the requisite number of signatures in the short time period alloted.

I have been to a number of those county fairs (signature gathering campaigns) and you will end up killing off all your energy on the drive and won't have anything left to make a mockery of this illadvised plan.

For Randy Leanards part it is interesting that he is opposed to the initiative and referendum process now. After all when he was with the fire department he was fully on board for referring the "City Council by District" idea.

Someone call his hypocrisy on that ok?


Ted, I believe the mockery is already being made. If that's all that's left, we've already got it.

Why don't you commit to get 50 or 60 signatures?

If 50 people got 200, 80 got 80, and another 100 got 50, that's the 21,400 you'd need to get 17,794 valid ones. And I believe it would put the whole process on hold through Erik's next primary. He'd have to go begging for TV money again. And that would be great fun to watch.

We'd have a lot of powerful people rooting for us.

Jack: I would love to gather signatures...count me in for 1,000, and I'll call them all back if the petition fails (and ask them for $5).

I would be curious to know your opinion of the below characterization of the "General Welfare Clause"


The below quote was cut and pasted from the above link...

"Fortunately, the Founding Fathers anticipated the problem of influence peddling and gave us the tool to stop it. The tool is known as the Constitution's General Welfare Clause and it is so important it is stated twice, once in the Preamble and once in the Enumerated Powers Clause of the Constitution.

The General Welfare Clause was understood by the Founders to limit the federal government's power to make laws to benefit some citizens or groups at the expense of others. In essence, the clause prevents using the law to steal - to take property from one citizen or group and give it to another. Relying on the General Welfare Clause, Congress voted down programs that redistribute wealth, like Welfare (corporate and private), Social Security, and subsidies for specific goods, while the Founders were still alive and for a short time thereafter.

Congress began writing the General Welfare Clause out of the Constitution in 1867. In that year, the first federal appropriation to individuals was made. The clause was completely nullified by the Supreme Court in the 1930s to pave the way for FDR's socialist programs. Sadly, you'd have a tough time in Washington today finding a politician who even knew this history. (although Dr. Roger Pilon, a close friend of Justice Thomas, has documented it in a law review article published by Notre Dame.) But here's why the General Welfare Clause would work to curtail influence peddling, if the Constitution was still honored.

The reason special interests try to buy influence is because Congress has taken the power to redistribute wealth and to make law in areas where the Constitution specifically fails to grant the federal government power. With a stroke of the pen, Congress can give your industry subsidies from the tax payer's pocket, wipe out your competition with regulations, or give people that look like you, or like to have sex the same way you do, preferences in everything from hiring to student loans (which are unconstitutional wealth redistributions themselves).

Eliminating the government's power to shift wealth by returning to the original understanding of the Constitution would stop influence peddling the same way hamburger sales would drop if every hamburger joint in America was blown up by terrorists. The demand for special favors would still be there but the government's ability to satisfy that demand would be severely limited."

Don't get me wrong. I share your consternation over this whole idea. It is just that I have run a number of signature drives. It is much harder than you think. It is even harder and more expensive on a volunteer basis.

Usually the people that committ to get signatures end up getting about 50% of the signatures or less. And you will need about 25% more signatures than the requisite number.

I gathered about 31,000 signatures for a city term limits measure when I needed 21k. Those that count your signatures end up killing wayy to many of them in the process.

Try reframing the question, and think about what this proposal does for a person who could not otherwise run. b!X's report included testimony from a member of Oregon Action named Shannon Olive, who says she will run under the new system. A Google search doesn't turn up much for Ms. Olive, which could mean she hasn't done much - or it could mean that she's done great things behind the scenes and not been given credit in the media. Regardless, the important thing is that she believes she can run for City Council with the Voter Owned Elections funding in place.

Whether she can raise 1000 $5 checks remains to be seen. If she can, it will show she has significant community support and her ideas should be considered carefully. Without public campaign financing, she doesn't believe she could be heard. If we respect the right of any citizen to have an equal chance of being elected to the Council, this matters. I think the proposal is worth supporting not for what it does for incumbents or for people who already have the ability to compete under the current system, but for people who have no other means of getting to the table. It's not funding politicians, it's funding democracy.

Are you ready to contemplate a suggestion from the Wild Guy?

The cost for an insert in The Oregonian is perhaps 3 grand, for statewide distribution. Localized distribution to overlap with just the City of Portland circulation should be about half of that.

A one page sheet for signatures does not need to have slots for ten people to sign and one extra slot for the person that gathered those signatures to sign that they witnessed those signatures. Instead, it needs only one for the person signing and they can attest that they themselves witnessed their own signing, ha ha, and they can note their occupation and address and send the thing in to some post office box.

If you really want to have fun, get approval of such a one page sheet where there is no “signature gatherer.” The question of whether a gatherer was paid or not thus would become wholly irrelevant.

Your sheet could hold an alternative check box for the responder, the survey responder, to note opposition to the referendum rather than support. (The government conducts polls, publicly paid polls, all the time.) The public purpose, as note in the US Supreme Court for a Colorado case was that there be sufficient public interest in something so as to justify the cost of conducting the election.

Would the burden that you must have a formal signature gatherer other than the citizen via a mail-in ballot (oops, I mean mail-in petition) be a device, an impermissible burden, to thwart the initiative process? I would say that the one-pager is more narrowly tailored to measuring public support for placement of an issue on a ballot for a public vote than is any ad-hoc requirement that any petition must include the second name of a formal signature gatherer. Every single sheet is amenable to validation, just as with a mail-in ballot, thus the same method for signature validation could apply as well with the petition.

Go with a one-page insert.

Amanda, whatever the merits of this proposal (and granted, they are arguable), we can't afford it in city government. There are too many important things going unfunded. Let little Ms. What's Her Name find some backers and raise her own campaign funds. And start by running for school board, like everybody else.

Jack, perhaps there are too many things going unfunded in city government because City Hall decision-making remains an insiders' game. Those backers you want "little Ms. What's Her Name" to find are likely to be the very people you rant about regarding tax abatements, South Waterfront, etc. Some people say we can't afford NOT to fund campaigns, when the current system is dependent on those with financial interests in future votes paying thousands of dollars for campaigns.

I heard the number of past city council campaigns where at least 1000 different voters donated to a candidate is zero. If that's correct, the game is currently being played by a very small number of players. And the bar is being set quite high, for who could play in the future. Doesn't it seem undemocratic to you, that Ms. Olive or anyone else could plan an effective campaign if she can get 1000 $5 checks, but not if her 1000 supporters can't afford $50 checks or $10,000 ones? Are you saying you support the current system where political candidates and/or their supporters have to be affluent?

Ouch, you're twisting my words so hard, my hair hurts.

The current system ain't great. But I do support it over, say, nuclear holocaust. And I also support it over a system that would pull a supposed $1.3 million a year (the number keeps changing), and perhaps much more, away from cops, parks, pothole repair, etc.

Find a way to implement this socialist experiment without diverting money out of the general fund. Lord Erik actually talked about a pizza delivery tax at first, then it was going to be a fee on registered lobbyists, but now that Grampy owes him big time and he's running everything, he figures he can just take it away from the Buckman and MLC swimming pools.

Plus, the current Four-Pak of developer proxies have so many past favors to pay. They'll never be out of the pockets of which we are speaking, even if they never have to grovel for another new cent. If there's something wrong in Portland government, this ain't going to fix it.

The tax dollars are much better spent on other things. And at the very least, the public should have its say before the incumbents just take the money for themselves, which they assuredly are hoping to do.

Don't worry, Amanda, I'll give you $50 to run for City Council, but you'd better run against Saltzman. No one's going to beat Opie, with or without "clean money," because he's holding all the chips right now, and I do mean all.

Yeh, yeh, yeh...the money can ALWAYS be spent on something better. And of course, we should refer EVERYTHING with a budgetary impact that the council could vote on to the voters. C'mon Jack, get real - also, try taking a look at the impact of "clean election" laws in the states that have implemented them (or talk to the citizens there). In Maine and Arizona, it seems to have worked pretty damn well.

And what about the cost of having your duly elected Councilmen spending half their waking hours chasing big dollars instead of running their bureaus etc.? Does anybody realize just how wasteful the current system of funding campaigns really is? I think Mr. Sten and others do. If they were really looking to ensure their incumbency, there are much better systems than this to do so.

Like some others here, I am an innocent bystander (non-PDX resident) but I would dearly love to see this system adopted statewide, and if it works in Portland, then there's a chance.

Am I the only person amazed at the leadpipe disdain of public opinion by the Clean Money supporters?

They could teach Tom DeLay a few things about about political arrogance.

I guess this experiment is just way too important to ask those silly voters to approve it first.

is there someone who's going to head opposition to this and get it on the ballot? I'm willing to volunteer.

of course, we should refer EVERYTHING with a budgetary impact that the council could vote on to the voters.

That's it -- distort, distort, distort.

If it's so great in Maine and Arizona, you move there and pay for it. And if you're not from Portland, why don't you talk it up with the local politicians where you live? What's that you say? They'd laugh you out of their offices? I thought so.

Jack, I don't understand how you can both accuse the current council of being in developers pockets and tell them they shouldn't vote for this proposal!

As one of the four-pack said, it takes only one tax abatement NOT granted to one of those developers to pay for this.

panchopdx, if the existence of individual liberty (which is inextricably linked to private property) is the evil that is targeted by this legislation then there is no amount of glowing praises of liberty that will sway the proponents. This is not an experiment, other than to test the level of abandonment by the judiciary of protections for free speech. This experiment will proceed regardless of whether the clean money is advanced by the council directly or referred to the voters. We get to the legal test issue quicker with the council vote.

Should the people who are not members of the one party government expect the same protections afforded in COMMUNIST PARTY v. CONTROL BOARD, 367 U.S. 1 (1961)? You must divulge your membership in any non-one-party-state organization, via the campaign finance disclosure laws.

GOD..I'm really going to be in trouble now!

One of the posters on this thread, and some others gave service to a recall effort with "zip" results.

Wanna know why it didn't work?

We were promised a possible 70,000 dollars, from a group of very well known, and very rich, an "vocal" people, (at Jakes bar, they were vocal)these people who our downtown business contact had polled have a combined net worth of 3/4 of a billion dollars, there were 10 of them.

When we started the process of collecting the money..THE COWARDS, said too a man, "they would love to recall the "b----", but their names could not be seen on any public document. They could give money under the table....but all had deals coming up in council and JUST couldn't be held up for their "WORK/ SUPPORT" on the recall.

We had to "punt" to "plan 2' and it cost us, cause we wanted to stay legal .

Point being folks....until you ALL get a bunch braver then posting here..."THE BOYS", an Linn will continue to run over you all.

So I will just say again:

OK...I know I WILL catch hell for this, but, Why the hell do you people cry if you won't do a damn thing to stop it?

Can you just think about human nature for just a bit? If the recall I lead against Vera, and the one against Linn had been successful, do you think that these people would be so "arrogant"(Leonard/Linn, and unwilling to listen, (Linn/Leonard) if one or both recalls had dropped one of them? Don't whine, it's not very adult of some of you.

Jack B. You are correct, do not back down.


I ain't got a pot to piss in, financially.

How about a charter amendment to require election of a city attorney? I'll do it if I can openly take a salary on the same terms any pollster does when they receive public dollars to gage public sentiment before placing something on the ballot. I'll do it, unsuccessfully, even if I don't get a dime; just to whine. In fact I'll draft it tonight just for the heck of it to set the seeds of the idea, because that is all the power I have. It would just add one more layer of approval for stuff and potentially inject an accountability nut into one house that graft built.

I might even go get some signatures before the "prospective" petition is submitted for approval for obtaining signatures just to make some poor fool ponder whether I need to be fined or thrown in jail for such a dastardly act of defiance.

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