In October, an organization called First Things First (FTF) started circulating signature sheets to qualify a ballot initiative for May's election. If passed, it would destroy the public campaign-financing plan that city council approved last May.
Backed by the Portland Business Alliance (PBA), FTF is worried that public campaign financing will loosen businesses' grip on city hall. Normally, candidates must grovel to big business owners and downtown developers for campaign donations.
FTF has until January 17 to gather 27,000 signatures from voters—but things must not be going so well. Recently, I've spied them combing through neighborhoods and knocking on doors, hoping to trick enough people into signing their sheets.
Just last Friday evening, I noticed a young woman with a clipboard knocking on my neighbor's door. "Excuse me, can I get you to sign this?" she called out to me, and added, "Do you want to help stop tax dollars being spent on politicians' advertisements?" For good measure, she also read from her sheet of talking points. "Money should not be taken away from education, public safety, and environmental causes."
That would be a noble sentiment—if it weren't a crock of shit. Revenue for campaign financing doesn't come from education or public safety funds, but from less than one percent of the city's general fund. That's why in response to the FTF's stepped-up campaign, I've made it my personal mission to talk as many signature gatherers as possible into quitting.
Very politely, I asked her, "Are you a conservative?" She looked shocked, as if I'd called her a nasty name. I then told her that public financing is one of the best, most progressive ideas currently being experimented with in the country.
I also informed her that in 2010 public financing will automatically be referred to voters. "Shouldn't we at least give it a test spin?" I asked her.
After talking for several minutes, she told me she had just moved from Austin and needed a job. "But," she said, "this sucks. They totally lied to me." Then, with barely a moment's pause, added, "I quit!"
For those looking for employment, I hear the FTF is looking for signature gatherers. If you can stomach it.