The city's Citizen's Campaign Commission is mulling whether to allot $50,000 of taxpayer money to publicly-financed candidates running for the newly vacant city auditor's position, at a meeting in the city auditor's office this evening.
That's $100,000 per candidate less than they're technically allowed under city code. City Auditor Gary Blackmer resigned last week, and his resignation is scheduled to take effect on May 18, the day before a special election is scheduled, citywide. Blackmer's job, like all the other city commissioners', is eligible for publicly funded candidates, and city code says candidates for the job can use up to $150,000 each. But City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who is the first elected city commissioner ever to have got there with public money, is pushing the commission to agree to lower the amount of money so as to make the elections process less controversial.
"I want to have this process be as non-controversial as possible," says Fritz. "So that it doesn't have any semblance of figuring it out on the fly."
"Another factor that is going to play in, hugely, is the current economy," she says.
Fritz's own Office of Human Relations is looking at a cut of 50%, and the Office of Neighborhood Involvement is also looking at a 16% cut, she says.
"The media laid into public financing the Sunday after I was elected the week before. I just don't want to have that debate during this election," she continues (note: I'm not sure which article Fritz is referring to, but the Oregonian has slammed voter-owned elections since they came to pass...) "So I think if we, here tonight, can come to consensus on a number which many of us may feel is too low...I think that this is the best way for us to go at this particular point in time."
"I would really like to have a 5-0 vote with very little discussion on this, when we discuss it in council next week," she continues.
If Fritz appears to be giving the commission the hard sell, it's because she's a champion of voter owned elections, which are scheduled to go before voters next year. She wants the election to go smoothly so that when voters get the opportunity to approve voter owned elections next year, they don't have yet another debacle to cite as a reason to vote against the process—so far, one candidate essentially absconded with the taxpayer funds to go to Montana, and another paid his campaign chief $25,000 for three months, planting lawn signs.
"We want to not turn this election into debate about publicly financed elections, but to focus the attention of the media and the public on the candidates who come forward," says Fritz.
Of course, the Citizens' Campaign Commission, which is only an adviser to council, who will vote on this issue next week, can't agree on anything. An hour into the meeting, people are continuing to argue over the details. Some think auditor candidates won't be able to gather the necessary 1000 signatures to qualify for public financing...others do...some are concerned about reducing the amount of public money available for an auditor as opposed to a city commissioner, others aren't...
But by 6:45, the Commission has agreed to Fritz's $50,000 figure, with $67,000 if there's a run-off between two candidates.
It's surprising to hear Fritz pushing for a resolution like this, so quickly. Jasun Wurster, who even served on Fritz's campaign, says he doesn't think May 19 is going to be long enough for publicly-financed candidates to get it together in time. "And I don't think that time period serves adequately for education of the public," he says. But it will only cost $80,000 to run the auditor's election on May 19. To do it in July would be $375,000. To do it in September would be $600,000. That's the price of a thorough public process in lean times like these, I guess.