It wasn't a final vote, but if you were watching Portland City Council consider a new proposed campaign finance system on Wednesday afternoon, you got the picture.
As expected, Commissioner Amanda Fritz's "Open and Accountable Elections" proposal found the backing of Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick. And despite the exhortations of the remainder of council, that three vote-bloc will pass Fritz's new system into law next week without first asking voters what they think.
Fritz, Hales, and Novick all voted down an amendment—introduced by Commissioner Dan Saltzman and pushed by Commissioner Nick Fish—that would have let Portland voters decide the program's fate during the May 2017 election.
That's interesting, since voters narrowly killed Portland's last system for financing campaigns in 2010.
"We’re better when we rely on our voters to effect major changes that cost some of their pocketbooks," Saltzman told his colleagues. "I think there’s a puzzling, baffling fear not to ask. I think we’d be better off if we did."
Fish was absent, and Saltzman's arguments were swiftly dashed in a 3-1 vote against—a sure sign the proposal will pass during a second reading next week.
We've reported a lot about the campaign finance proposal (see here, here, and here) which would allow qualifying candidates for city office to leverage tax dollars to multiply small donations from the public. With that help comes a requirement that candidates limit their spending (even though Oregon has no campaign finance limits) and not accept donations from political action committees.
To fund the program, the campaign system would get a maximum of 0.2 percent of the city's general fund each year—currently about $1.2 million.
The proposal shifted a bit Wednesday, when council approved a slate of amendments aimed at reducing potential conflicts of interest. Those changes would largely ensure that the commissioner in charge of the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, which will administer the program, won't make decisions or have a say in investigating complaints about the system while they are running for election.
Fritz is the only member of council who's run for office using public financing (under the defunct city program) and also the only member of council who doesn't accept large donor checks her proposal disdains. So it's worth pointing out that she found support from two men who will be out of public office in less than a month. Hales declined to run for re-election, and Novick was defeated in a runoff.
"No one in Portland politics is bought and paid for," Hales said before voting Wednesday. "We have ethical people serving to the best of their ability." But, he noted, elections here become an "arms race" that can take attention from holding office or officials' personal lives. (That dynamic was a central reason Hales said he wouldn't run for re-election).
Fritz has long indicated she wants to push the new system in without a public vote, despite the fact that voters eschewed financing elections in 2010. One big reason: She didn't feel like leading another ballot campaign, fresh off of convincing Portlanders to approve a 3 percent sales tax on recreational pot.
Today, she pointed to the overwhelming victory of a campaign finance reform measure in Multnomah County on November 8 as reason why her system shouldn't come up for a vote.
"It’s an absolute indication that spending several hundred thousand dollars putting this on the ballot would be a waste of several hundred thousand dollars," Fritz said.