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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Erik knows best

As I recall, tomorrow's the day when our fearless leaders on the Portland City Council are going to vote to spend our property tax dollars to finance local political campaigns.

That's right. Take more than a million bucks each election (including six figures in administrative overhead, I'm sure, if you were honest about it) and hand it over to politicians. So they won't take money from anyone else.

First it was called "Clean Money." Then when somebody asked where the "dirty" money was, they changed the name of it to "Voter-Owned Elections," or some other Orwellian moniker.

Whatever you think of the proposal, you've got to admit that it's a radical enough move -- and that financial times at City Hall are tight enough -- that the whole concept ought to be voted on by the public before it's implemented.

But it won't be. Because the council knows darn well what would happen. It would go down in flames.

That never stops the Portland City Council. Look at the Convention Center. Look at north side light rail. Look at having PGE taken over by a public utility district (PUD).

The voters say no, but the boys at City Hall just ignore that. They know what's good for us. We don't. It's nothing new.

But we were led to expect more from Mayor Tom Potter and Commissioner Randy Leonard. In his campaign, the mayor promised to listen to the public, but he's got his earplugs in on this one, chirping right along with Commissioner Erik Sten, godfather of "Clean Money," whose endorsement pushed Potter's recent mayoral bid over the top. And for his part, candidate Leonard said he was "different -- thank goodness," but when it comes to his new buddy Erik's wet policy dreams, he's the same as all the rest. And now that he got himself quoted in The New York Times over the Joint Terrorism Task Force, you can expect Fireman Randy to sign on to even more of Erik's expensive, fruitless, public-be-damned "big ideas." In return, Sten will have his back if and when we ever try to shine a bright spotlight into the financial black hole that is the city's police and fire pension liability.

"Clean Money" is an o.k. idea, albeit a bit obvious. My problem with it has always been how to pay for it. Even Congress didn't have the guts to just take campaign finance money out of tax revenues. Instead, they ask income taxpayers to state on their tax returns whether they would like to earmark $3 of their taxes to go to publicly finance the Presidential election campaigns. The vast majority -- close to 90 percent -- say no. Sten floated a number of ideas for funding "Clean Money" locally -- a tax on pizza deliveries was even in there at one point -- but they all fell flat. So essentially we're left with property taxes as the default option. And there won't be a checkoff option on your property tax bill, that's for sure.

As I suggested here a while ago, the public could force "Clean Money" onto the ballot, but it would take around 18,000 valid signatures, and they'd have to be gathered in the next 30 days. This is a sufficiently outrageous stunt that it deserves such a response, but you wonder whether anyone around here cares enough any more to take to the streets for smart government.

A lot of good people seem to be taking to the highway instead.

Comments (24)

"First it was called "Clean Money." Then when somebody asked where the "dirty" money was"

LOL - love it!

As for the rest of the issue, no - it isn't fair that someone, albeit a council, can arbitrarily decide to use taxpayers' money to fund anything without public input and vote. But since when is anything fair?

The more I read/watch/listen to government figures, from local to national to worlwide, the more I realize the old phrase is indeed true:

"Ignorance is bliss"

I still hold on to the bleak hope that our boys in the office will pull their heads out and actually listen to us but who am I kidding? As evident with such things as this supposed Revenue Bureau, I am made more and more aware that they will do as they please.

All they require of us is to get out of the way, sit down and shut up.

I was planning on testifying in opposition (again) tomorrow, but "clean money" is buried somewhere in the afternoon agenda and is not listed as "time certain". That means if you want to speak against it, you would have to hang around all afternoon not knowing when you would be heard. I submit this is by design. It is, however, unlikely that they will vote on it tomorrow. The Mayor is going to be absent and at least one of the Commissioners is going to offer amendments. With most of them saying, in Friday's "O", that they would probably "opt out" of the money themselves, I think there is still a chance this thing will peter out.
A referendum to overturn, if they do vote it in tomorrow, would be a tough nut because of the thirty day time window. My understanding is that another way to go would be a referendum for a new ordinance which would contermand... I'm not sure, but I think the signature collection window on that would be 120 days.

Also, with regard to their ability to fund things without taxpayer input... just remember, three of those five guys can put the City of Portland on the hook for purchasing PGE... to the tune of 2.3 billion or so. Scary, isn't it?

Having studied this system of campaign finance for City Club, I would like to differ on two points:

1) City Club is clear that the benefits in opening the political process more than justify the cost involved. As one commissioner put it "all we have to do is avoid one unjustified tax abatement..."

2) This is NOT a benefit to the incumbunents. Whether they take public funds or not in future elections, this process will create MORE qualified opponents for the incumbents.

I personally salute them for their courage in opening the process at risk to their own political careers.

The whole purpose of this ordinance is to provide an even money campaign to the qualifying candidates. Any political analyist will tell you the incumbent has a huge edge in an even money race. The idea that the thinking behind this is to open up the process to a wide array of candidates who can successfully challenge an incumbent is a load of hooey. If you really think a sitting commissioner is going to back a scheme that's going to make it harder for them to get re-elected, then I have some beach front property in Arizona I'd like to talk to you about.

Of course, the most ironic thinking of all is that the Mayor himself ran his own "clean money" campaign and won the election. So he of all people should see how misplaced this idea is. And of course there is that matter of finances. Tis si the last thing we need to pay for . How about the schools? Buckman Pool? There are so many needy and deserving areas to put that money (which doesn't even exist yet).
I'm starting to doubt Potter. He says he is "for children" yet he proposes to close a tiny pool serving a low-income area. How is this pro-children? Wilson High School Pool was recently renovated to the tune of 2.5 millions dollars, which Includes a 6 lane lap pool, sauna, solar panels etc. And it's less than 2 miles from the Gabriel Park Community Center. So for those kids, everything is just hunky dory.
Over here in the Inner South East though, kids will have to travel by 2 buses to get to the closest center (Matt Dishman). As usual, them that's got shall get, them that's not shall lose.... Feels positively Vera-like.

Any suggestions otherwise Jack? Of how to get to the end point without going their path? Just curious.

-A Green Bay Packers of course I'm a fan of a locally owned PUD. Cheese and Rose heads!

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Bryant Square (downtown) gets a 1,100,000 cash infusion from the PARKS LEVY that we thought was going towards keeping our pools and community centers open. The city can't keep our little pool open, but they can slick up that little junkie park. I lived downtown in the late 80's and even then, that little concrete "park" was a junkie haven. And I do believe that it has rec'd at least one "makeover" before now.
Doesn't do any good tho. Cause the real problem is drug addiction. And (I know it's just a little tiny piece of a solution) but it's really helpful to keep kids off of the streets by giving them A SAFE PLACE TO RECREATE!!!!!!!!! Hello?? Hello?? Is anyone in city hall actually listening??

"Hello?? Hello?? Is anyone in city hall actually listening??"

I'll assume that's rhetorical...

I recognize the difficulties in getting enough signatures. But shouldn't we do something? If you get a petition going, I know dozens who would sign.

I'll help!!!

How much $$ does Buckman Pool need?

I'll bet you a tank of gas it's less than a clean money kicker check.

Ona similar note, has anyone seen Erik "Fearless Leader" Sten's story in the Willie Week?

The latest incarnation of my hypothetical Portland initiative contains these features:

For the May or November 2006 election --

Revoke past authorization of publicly financed elections.

It would be effective retroactively as a "remedy" to "potentially" threatened lawsuits claiming that such funding was unlawful under the free speech rights of both the state and federal constitution.

The ACLU, as a supporter of clean money, and as an advocate of individual liberty, would be offered 4.5 million dollars (right there in plain sight within the initiative) as a reward for the costs of obtaining signatures and for public advocacy in favor of passage by the public.

The council would be given the authority, in their discretion, just like a judge in Armatta and Tanner, to double the award.

Such a public award is justified based on protecting the rights of the public rather than a particularized right of a party. It is available today (clean money) on behalf of an attorney, but only an attorney, and is not made equally available under the equal privileges and immunities clause to any non-attorney or initiative sponsor seeking to advance a policy that is in the public interest (whatever the public interest means).

The mission impossible, for the ACLU if they choose to accept it, would be to assure that all proponents of public policy have a fair shake at obtaining money from the public to advance a cause, even an initiative sponsor like Bill Sizemore or the OEA.

We might as well bring the circus act of "how" we form public policy to the forefront above actual policy. The OEA/Sizemore circus brought such great entertainment value to the public that, in the public interest of enjoying a good show, we should expand the circus tent to accommodate more participants. We might even forget, for a day or so, the other troubling issues that we face.

So, Mr. Chris Smith, from the City Club, do you catch just some of the nuances of the above?

Jack, don't sweat the 30 day limit for a referendum. Just raise the bar, it isn't about the result anyway it is about the journey. Why let the fun last only 30 days?

The vast borrowing to cover PERS trustee investment losses needed only the potential of a law suit and the assertion of a remedy to that threat to go issue billions of dollars of bonds. The was no duty to exhaust all or even discuss colorable claims on behalf of the public against the private interests of a class so as to constrain the lawyers and the legislature. The cost of this little campaign funding dispute pales by comparison, but is even more absurd, analytically.

Is there not a single colorable claim that the ACLU could find to oppose the City of Portland's dirty money plan? Is the lure of 4.5 million dollars enough to make them think about it? Would it take a multi-billion dollar prize for them to think a bit harder?

(Signed, The Court Jester.)

As a voter, I've always thought that I "own" the election when I vote or choose NOT to vote. Not when I'm forced to give my tax money over to a candidate who I don't support.

If they really want to open the process, try term limits. It worked for the California Legislature. Oh, but wait, voters should have the right to choose among candidates. But we shouldn't have the right to decide whether we want to underwrite the candidates themselves.

This whole thing just sucks.

I agree with Ron about using the initiative rather than referendum. You get more time to gather, you get to set your own start date for gathering and you get to tack on additional provisions (so long as everything relates to a single subject).

I would axe clean money and add term limits (eight as Council Member, eight as Mayor) as a charter amendment.

It would be a straightforward measure, and it shouldn't have a single subject problem if drafted correctly.

The Buckman Pool needs an immediate $120,000, then less than $100,000 per annum to operate.

Raise your hand if you remember Congress in the nineties and the party of term limits becoming the party of thinking better of that idea as soon as they gained the majority.

"On a similar note, has anyone seen Erik 'Fearless Leader' Sten's story in the Willie Week?"

Liked: "boy blunder." The rest was revolting. Do I think he is fat, fatuously, panderingly, disingenuously, mealy-mouthed because I can't stand him, or can I not stand him because he is fat, fatuous, pandering and disingenous.

Scariest part:

[WW]: "Do you still want to be mayor at some point?"

[ES]"I'm not dead-set on it...I'm definitely interested. I'm not going to say I'm not going to run. I'm just saying I don't wake up in the morning thinking I need to be mayor."

You've been warned.

Oh come on folks,
Eric might be a nice guy but he is not particularly bright, has few real world experiences, has no real talents, is not a good leader, offers no real solutions, is scatter brained on tough issues and has no business being in the mix of crucial public policy making decisions at all.
Eric, please resign.
The rest of the local leadership is delivering precisely what we should all expect from the level of folks occupying those seats. The pretense of expertise, chronic excuse making, professional delusion and outcomes requiring perpetual swindling by our press. They are beyond persuasion, incapable of broader views and find comfort in their own self image as they forever posture to avoid any consequences for anything they do.
Other than that they are all pretty swell.

"Eric might be a nice guy but he is not particularly bright, has few real world experiences, has no real talents, is not a good leader, offers no real solutions, is scatter brained on tough issues and has no business being in the mix of crucial public policy making decisions at all. "

From what I've seen of politics in the past, isn't that standard resume-filler for anyone running for office? Espeically for those wishing to run for the Oval Office?


what the hell is the point of electing people if you don't plan on letting them decide how to run the city? The public financing plan is a superb idea, well worth the pittance it costs. Potter's victory proves that voters favor the candidate who does not appear beholden. Some are, some aren't. I think Francesconi would have been. On the other hand, Goodman could put a million bucks in Randy's back pocket, and he'd turn around and put it right into Star Park's shirt. But with full financing, nobody gets into office already on the take from the interests that got them elected.

Potter may have limited himself to $25 and then $100, but he was also the former police chief, with a lot of friends in town. He was known. What if you have neither the money nor the cache? Your shot at Council is nil. For the life of me I can't figure out the "incumbent protection act" moniker. When anybody with even a little support can become a serious and visible candidate, I think he process wins. We're doing a fine job standing up for the Buckman folks, and frankly we should--120K is chicken feed. But it's shocking to me that Randy is the first east-of-82nd member. The qualification requirements for funding are such that one good candidate from each major area of the city (SW, Hills, NW/Downtown, North, SE, Inner NE, Far East) has the population base to represent. With money to reach people, James Posey would have been a legitimate candidate.

And I think we vastly underestimate the time spent by politicans begging for money. That time is not free to taxpayers just because the checks are signed privately. There is not reason one for any candidate to be seen at paid corporate or union fund raisers, under full financing. The pander luncheon becomes a courtesy instead of a realpolitik necessity.

If money didn't buy access--even in squeaky clean Portland--it would defy the laws of valuation, and the people giving up the money are too smart to defy those laws.

I think it's shortsighted to whine about a cost that has great potential for increased political participation and cleaner governmental dealings in between elections. And while 1.3 mil is more than 120K, it too is a relatively tiny slice of the City budget.

what the hell is the point of electing people if you don't plan on letting them decide how to run the city?

On most things, sure. On this, no. It deserves an immediate vote.

I've never said this was a bad idea, in theory. But right now Portland's broke. There are many more important things than this. And no, I don't mean who owns PGE.

What if you have neither the money nor the cache? Your shot at Council is nil.

Try getting your 1,000 $5 contributions (or whatever it is) without "cache." Equally nil.

Hey, can you pay people to solicit your $5 contributions for you? This will be lots of fun.

squeaky clean Portland

Never has been -- never will be.

great potential for increased political participation and cleaner governmental dealings in between elections

I'm not convinced.

What the hell is the point of electing people who haven't the slightest idea how to run things?

That's the problem.

Potter's victory proves that voters favor the candidate who does not appear beholden.

That statement in itself proves we don't need public financing.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Erik knows best:

» Public financing will let the rich support both sides from Isaac Laquedem
It seems hardly sporting of the City Council to approve public financing of campaigns when Professor Bogdanski is out of town. [Read More]


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