Wheeler speaking at his October campaign launch.
Wheeler speaking at his October campaign launch. Blair Stenvick

Mayor Ted Wheeler will not be relying on the city's new public campaign finance program to run his re-election campaign. In a statement sent to the Mercury, Wheeler said that while he supports the "intent" of the Open and Accountable Elections program, he doesn't want to bankroll his campaign with public dollars that could be going to other city programs.

"What I do not want to do is to divert limited taxpayer dollars to a newly-formed program at a time when we are asking more from our public employees, non-profit partners and law enforcement in the face of so many pressing challenges," said Wheeler, who announced his re-election campaign in mid-October.

The Open and Accountable Elections (OAE) program, which was approved with a council vote in 2016, aims to level the campaign playing field for candidates without a wealthy donor base.

To qualify for the program, candidates must first collect contributions of less than $250 from 250 Portlanders (mayoral candidates, however, require 500 donors). At that point, the city will match all previous and future campaign donations up to $50 at a six-to-one rate, using money from the city’s general fund. That means if a candidate collects 500 contributions of $25, the city will turn their $12,500 total into $75,000.

Portland's May 2020 primary election is the first campaign where candidates can use the new funding mechanism. As of now, a total of eight candidates in various Portland city races have signaled their intent to participated in OAE, and two have received enough small donations to officially qualify for the program. One of those qualified candidates, Sarah Iannarone, is running against Wheeler for mayor.

Wheeler, who recently gave up $16,000 in donations from Trump lackey Gordon Sondland, currently has $85,465 in his campaign war chest. After receiving an October 24 deposit of $85,755 from the OAE program, Iannarone's total campaign funds have risen to $89,981.

Wheeler's decision to opt out of the program means he'll be able to collect up to $500 from individual donors (a new limit for candidates participating in Portland elections), far beyond the OEA matching rules. Since announcing his candidacy last month, Wheeler's campaign hasn't reported any contributions to the state.

Wheeler appears confident that he won't need the OAE program to hold onto his office.

"In my last campaign, thousands of Portland residents from all walks of life stepped up to support our effort," Wheeler said. "I am committed to a grassroots fundraising approach this time around as well. I look forward to running a transparent, accountable re-election campaign gaining support from across Portland."