These days, I can't carelessly swing a ball-peen hammer without injuring some bespectacled moppet spouting off about the importance of the "netroots" and the emerging power of "digital politics." At least, I think that's what they're saying—it's hard to hear a coherent thought through the flood of "LOL" and "OMG" (and let's not forget the ROTFLMAOs).
The idea, I'm told, is that web-based campaigning (and by "campaigning," I mean "fundraising") is becoming as valid as traditional, door-to-door, grassroots campaigning. Since society is becoming fractured anyway, and we spend less and less time actually, you know, talking to people, the world wide web is quickly replacing the town halls of ye olden times.
This is playing out most obviously in the presidential and senatorial races, but the smart money is on the internet playing a role in city races next year. Trouble is, candidates hoping to qualify for $145,000 in city funds under Portland's publicly funded elections (after collecting 1,000 five-dollar contributions from registered Portland voters) will be out of luck—the Citizens Campaign Commission, which has been analyzing the system for the past year, delivered a report to council last Thursday recommending that potential public candidates only be allowed to collect their contributions via cash or check.
The rule precludes any web-based fundraising, which would happen through credit card or that newfangled PayPal service. Of course, candidates can still set up websites to talk about themselves and their platforms, and organize volunteers, but they'll be missing the easy one-click donations that have arguably made a difference in larger races.
There are plenty of reasons why allowing credit card donations would be a bad idea for the public system—the potential for fraud tops the list. But the primary reason given by the commission is that it would detract from one of the original goals of the program—to foster grassroots campaigning.
This set up an interesting—and entertaining—spat between Commissioners Sam Adams and Randy Leonard. Adams called the no-credit card policy "ideologically inconsistent." Since candidates can still have other people collect signatures—meaning there's already a buffer between the public and the candidate—what's the difference if that buffer is a complicated series of zeros and ones? Leonard, though, supports the policy—although some, including former city council candidate Dave Lister, half-jokingly suggested that Leonard is just afraid of web-savvy political opponents.
Here's hoping that as the public campaign program grows up, it joins the rest of us in the 21st century.