A tipster attending Commissioner Amanda Fritz's Gilt Club campaign re-launch party last night shared some interesting news: Fritz—who was dramatically outraised by State Representative Mary Nolan while limiting contributions to $50—has decided to up her limit to $250.
Fritz has confirmed that change, and her website has already been updated with the new number. Yesterday, Charlie Hales promised a $600 limit on donations in the mayoral race—acting on an issue first pushed by his rival, Jefferson Smith.
Fritz wound up relying on her own money to squeak ahead of Nolan and her blistering attack campaign in the May primary, but she still fell short of landing the 50-percent-plus-one-vote knockout punch she needed to win outright. Asking for more money had to be a difficult decision for Fritz—it may open her up to attacks suggesting she's desperate and/or vacillating—but it was probably the only practical one, short of surrendering and finally getting some sleep. Which wasn't going to happen.
Update 10:30 AM: Fritz has now sent out a press release on the kickoff—and also the decision to accept more money. I'll update when I can with comment from Nolan's camp.
Perhaps the most enthusiastic cheers of the evening came when Fritz announced she is setting her fundraising contribution cap for the General Election at $250 per person. She is still not accepting donations from corporations, unions, or other entities that are not individual people. Her $250 cap is the lowest announced limit among candidates for Portland citywide office.
Fritz noted that her change in voluntary limits is in response to input from many community members, and laughed, saying, "I may be the only political candidate in Portland whose supporters have been begging me to ask for more, rather than to leave them alone."
Update 4:40 PM: I spoke with Nolan earlier this afternoon, and her comments are after the jump. Headline? "We shouldn't apologize" for raising money to reach voters with advertising and that, moreover, she's not hearing much on the campaign trail about the supposedly woeful state of local campaign finance reform. Period.
"I find the conversation distracting from what most voters are focused on, actually. People want to talk to me about how I'm going to deliver results," Nolan says. "I am not hearing this as an issue that voters care bout. They don't volunteer it."
She went on to remind me that "we like private funded campaigns in Oregon," referring to the 2010 Portland vote that did away with voter-owned elections. "The voters said we don't want to pay for it with tax money or ratepayer money," Nolan says, "which on some level means they have to understand that candidates have to ask people to contribute."
Regarding Fritz specifically, Nolan poked again at Fritz for having to spend close to $200,000 of her own money during the primary, and she said the new limit seemed "arbitrary."
"She seems to have a moving target on how she's approaching how she wants to run and support her campaign," Nolan says. "And I suspect, although he claims she had people begging her to let them give more money, i suspect she realized that campaigns are about communicating with voters, and you can do a certain amount without spending much, but to get through you've got to spend money."
Here's what I wrote last month in a column about momentum after the primary.
But Fritz will be much harder pressed than Smith to capitalize on that momentum over the next five-plus months.
Fritz, clinging to the ghost of the public-financing system she used to ride into office in 2008, has so far limited her asks to $50 a contributor, per election, per calendar year. To keep up with the union-friendly Nolan, a champion fundraiser, Fritz wound up injecting tens of thousands of her family's savings into the campaign.
That won't help this time. She gambled her nest egg on the hope she'd win in the primary outright—leaving precious little for the runoff. "I'm not going to mortgage my house," she told me on Wednesday, May 16, lamenting that Nolan "will probably raise another $300,000."
Will she ask donors for more cash? If not she'll have to get creative—but the odds aren't good. It could be there's a bigger question, she says: "How do Portlanders want to finance their elections?"