To read The Oregonian's take on the political races, one might mistakenly think the size of a campaign's bank account measures a candidate's worth. Even Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean, who has ridden a wave of populist support, has fallen into this trap. When President Bush gathered up $1 million in contributions over a recent weekend, Dean encouraged supporters to match that money, as if pacing Bush's bank account would prove Dean's political mettle.

Last week council member Jim Francesconi announced he has already raised $300,000 for his mayoral bid, and claims it may take as much as $1 million to run his campaign. With each passing day we continue to see where the priorities lie for this former activist.

The McCain-Feingold Act limits campaign financing. But it is currently under attack at the Supreme Court and, in practice, by big-money campaigns like Francesconi's.

Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), the act's co-author, ran his winning campaign on a shoestring, putting his money where his mouth is. He refused to accept contributions over $100. Instead of slick TV ads, he spread his word by personally traveling around the Wisconsin countryside.

In Portland, we need politicians who will also lead by example, who will show that its possible to run and win a campaign without big money. Francesconi is doing everything he can to win city hall via a bidding war.

A quick glance at Francesconi's donors shows exactly why this matters: $5,000 each from Comcast, NW Natural, and Qwest (who the city sued last year). Francesconi has routinely been criticized as being a puppet for big business. Do we really think that once he takes office he won't give their backs a scratch?

Limiting contributions allows a level playing field. First off, it allows ordinary residents to share the same political footing as a massive corporation. Moreover, it allows all politicians to participate, not just the ones with rich friends or those willing to whore themselves out to corporations.

I have already pledged I will not accept any contribution over $100. This type of campaigning requires more pavement pounding and more face-to-face time. We need a human being in the mayor's seat, not the star of a slickly produced commercial. PHIL BUSSE