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Given the chance, the smart, likable nerds campaigning for Measure 26-200 will happily bury you in spreadsheets, lists, graphs, and statistics. (That’s what they spent most of the Mercury’s endorsement interview doing, anyway. These guys really like their numbers.) As with just about everything regarding campaign finance reform, Measure 26-200 can seem complicated.
Yet not only is campaign finance reform incredibly important (as Ann Ravel, the former chair of the Federal Election Commission, puts it, “Whether it be education or tax reform or foreign policy, campaign finance is at the heart of all the policy decisions that are being made”), but once you get past all those spreadsheets? Measure 26-200 actually isn’t that complicated.
The boiled-down version: This measure would limit the amount that individuals and political action committees (PACs) can donate to those running for office in Portland. The cap would be $500—a far cry from Oregon’s current system, which puts no limit on how much individuals or PACs can donate. That drastically favors well-connected candidates favored by well-moneyed individuals. (Look no further than Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who, directly and indirectly has given roughly $3.5 million to Republican gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler.) Measure 26-200 would also require that committees running political ads on behalf of candidates prominently and clearly identify their top donors. Currently, those donors—be they individuals, businesses, or special-interest groups—can hide behind the names of PACs, which are often misleadingly or euphemistically named in order to confuse voters.
Measure 26-200 is similar to a measure Seattle voters passed in 2015, and it’s identical to a county charter amendment that Multnomah County voters approved in 2016, only to see a county judge declare it unconstitutional. While that amendment is stuck in legal limbo, it’s just part of a greater push to bring campaign finance reform to Oregon—a push that now involves Measure 26-200.
And by all indications, campaign finance reform is something Portlanders want: Not only did the 2016 measure pass with a whopping 89 percent of the vote, but the vast majority of Americans favor transparency in campaign financing.
The US Supreme Court’s disastrous 2010 ruling on Citizens United v. FEC all but guaranteed that dark money will continue to be used to manipulate elections across the country. We can’t fix everywhere else—but we can make sure that in Portland, campaign donations are limited, disclosed, and regulated in a way that lets everyone know who stands to benefit in each election. That’s information every voter needs. Vote yes on 26-200.