Last week, as part of his campaign to change the city's form of government, Mayor Tom Potter called Portland the city that works "for insiders." The implication: Regular citizens don't know how to access city commissioners, while powerful special interests know exactly how to work the system.
Waddaya know? Turns out he's right. The day after making that pronouncement, the city auditor released the lobbying reports for the first quarter of the year and—surprise, surprise—the lion's share of all lobbying at city hall was done by the Portland Business Alliance (PBA), members of which are bankrolling Potter's "strong mayor" effort.
How's that for irony? Potter is using this argument—that people like the PBA are the only ones with access to city hall—to push for changing the form of government to something the PBA likes even better. I bet downtown businesses just can't wait for their influence in local government to be watered down, since that's what Potter is ostensibly arguing for.
In the first three months of 2007, the PBA had a total of 105 contacts with city officials or staffers—and the building was only open for 64 non-holiday weekdays during that period. (Coming in second was the Port of Portland with 72 contacts.)
The PBA also spent $458 on gifts—all but $200 of which was spent to send Potter and a staffer on a PBA retreat in Skamania, plus a book and a bottle of wine.
See? Potter is right. Who else in town could get the mayor to come over for dinner and a bottle of wine? You? Think again. "Insider" organizations like the PBA have exclusive access to the mayor, and the mayor is just sick about it, so much so that he... uhhh... wants to give the mayor more power?
By far, though, the organization that spent the most money lobbying was Singer Properties, which wants to build a parking garage on NW Irving near 23rd. The site has been the source of fighting between Singer and the neighborhood for years, and at the end of February, city council voted to uphold the neighborhood's appeal against the project. But in the months surrounding that decision, Singer Properties spent $9,571 on private lobbying efforts targeted at the city commissioners' staffers.
In terms of gifts, the city's biggest winners were Potter and Commissioner Sam Adams. Potter declared $1,451.25 in event tickets, thank-yous, and mementos. Those made up the bulk of Adams' booty too—except that he brought in $1,729.90. By comparison, Randy Leonard declared $30 in gifts, Dan Saltzman $100, and Erik Sten got squat. Harsh.