Last week, the First Things First Committee (FTF) filed their contributions and expenditures report revealing who's assisting them in their battle to torpedo Portland's Voter-Owned Elections (VOE). The list of donors—who gave a whopping $188,172 just to gather signatures—was a surprise to virtually no one.
As expected, the contributions came from a relatively small number of prominent businesses and business leaders who should be familiar to Portlanders with even a passing knowledge of local elections. By and large, First Things First's donors like PGE ($7,500) and City Center Parking ($3,000) have consistently given substantial sums of money to candidates for local races. And many of them have frequently given money to both leading candidates in a given race—a red flag for critics of unchecked campaign funding who claim that "double giving" is a way for donors to ensure they'll have influence over city leaders.
If the repeal is successful, it would dramatically hinder the efforts of candidates who have qualified for the campaign funds. So far, only one candidate officially populates that field: Amanda Fritz, running against Dan Saltzman. (Emilie Boyles is expected to file her paperwork this week.)
"[The donor list] is more evidence that it's time to do things differently," Fritz said. "Whether they eventually have influence on city council isn't the question. The system should avoid even the appearance of it."
The single largest source of money for the repeal came from the Portland Business Alliance Political Action Committee (PAC)—which contributed $32,000. PBA PAC has raised most, if not all, of that in the past few months. Where did that money come from? That question won't be answered until this spring, when the PBA PAC files its own contribution report.
Other top contributors were the Oregon Restaurant Association ($10,500), NW Natural Gas ($5,000), and the Qwest Employees PAC ($7,500). More notably, local developers, many of whom have close working relationships with the city, largely rounded out the list.
For instance, real estate developer Melvin Mark gave First Things First $1,000, the Melvin Mark Jr. Trust gave $2,500, and Melvin Mark Companies President John Andrews gave $2,000. Pearl District developers (and Home Depot-boosters) Gerding/Edlen gave $2,000, and Mark Edlen dropped $1,000 of his own money. Interestingly, the company also spent heavily on the 2004 race for city council--$5,000 to Sam Adams and $10,000 to his opponent, Nick Fish.
Even more interestingly, Williams & Dame, the development company behind most of the Pearl and South Waterfront, gave $5,000 to the repeal. Hoyt Street Properties—a company started by Williams & Dame's Homer Williams—gave $2,000 to both Adams and Fish in 2004. (It's worth noting that the Pearl and South Waterfront developments were the product of lucrative partnerships with the city.)
Of the approximately 90 contributors to FTF, only 47 are individuals—the rest are businesses and political action committees. Of the individual donors, three are developers, eight are attorneys, four are investors and 10 are retired. Most of those remaining are heads of businesses that deal in real estate development, investment, and construction.
According to the Money in Politics Research Action Project (MIPRAP), which is part of the anti-repeal "Vote No Power Grab" campaign, the people and businesses who donated to First Things First were responsible for one out of every five dollars spent in local elections in recent years.
"We are really looking at a group of people who play a role in who gets elected in Portland," MIPRAP's Sarah Wetherson said. First Things First hadn't returned the Mercury's phone calls by press time.
At this point, it's not even certain that the repeal will make it on the ballot. In January, FTF filed 40,988 signatures—many more than the 26,691 needed to qualify for the May 16 election. But in a sampling of the signatures, county elections officials found enough duplicates and invalid signatures to require a second, larger sampling. If that turns up a similar number of irregularities, officials can deny the filing—shutting First Things First out of the primary election.
Even if it does make it on the ballot, the repeal may be fighting an uphill battle. A poll released Tuesday by Riley Research Associates shows 44 percent support for public funding, 29 percent opposed, and 27 percent undecided.