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Campaign Finance Reform: Voter-Owned Elections (VOE)

Portland City Council adopted a groundbreaking campaign finance system in 2005 with the support of LWV Portland and other advocates for reform. Commonly known as Voter-Owned Elections, it is a cost effective reform that increases public confidence in the political process and makes the system more accessible to all. The League of Women Voters strongly supports campaign finance reform at all levels of government. The system has been referred to the November 2010 ballot by City Council for approval by the voters, as promised when it was first adopted.

Voter-Owned Elections (VOE) was a system of campaign finance adopted by the City of Portland in 2005. It was repealed by referendum to voters in Novemer 2010.

VOE was a cost effective reform that increased public confidence in the political process and made the system more accessible to all.  Candidates qualified for public funds by proving broad community support.  They were freed from raising private dollars and instead could focus on meeting with voters to discuss critical issues facing the community.

The Portland ordinance refered to the program as the “Campaign Finance Fund.”  Supporters in Portland refer to it as Voter-Owned Elections.  Arizona, Maine, and others use the term “Clean Money” system.

What did it look like in Portland?

Candidates qualified for public financing by collecting a set number of signatures and $5 contributions from Portland electors within a specified time period. The requirement was 1,000 signatures and $5 contributions for City Commissioner or Auditor and 1,500 for Mayor.  During the qualifying period the candidate could also raise “seed money” in small donations, up to 10 percent of the funding allowance, and “in kind” contributions up to 15 percent of the funding allowance.

Once the candidate was certified he/she received $150,000 (less the amount raised in qualifying contributions and seed money) for the primary election.  A mayoral candidate received a base of $200,000. (The funding for the general election is $200,000 and $250,000 respectively.)

City Code refered to the Campaign Finance Fund and established a Citizen Campaign Commission to work with the Auditor to recommend policy changes, administer rule development, and monitor the program.

History in Portland

CushmanIn April 2005, the Portland City Council voted to enact a voluntary public financed campaign system administered by the City Auditor’s office. The League became one of the early supporters in 2004 when then Commissioner Erik Sten and Auditor Gary Blackmer first introduced the proposal for a public financed campaign finance system similar to those that had already been successful in Arizona and Maine. Other areas of the country have since adopted similar programs.

The 2006 election cycle was the first opportunity for candidates to qualify for public financing; three candidates in two Commission races qualified for public funds, one was de-certified for violation of the rules.  One candidate using the system was elected to council. 

During the 2006 election cycle a group of individuals and corporations filed a petition to repeal the ordinance. The League, in coalition with other supporting groups, organized to fight the repeal effort. In spite of spending $30,000 to collect signatures, the repeal advocates failed to collect enough to have the repeal placed on the ballot.

In the 2008 election cycle, seven candidates in two Commission races and the Mayoral race qualified for public financing, one was de-certified by an administrative judge on appeal by another candidate. Two public finance qualified candidates advanced to the general election in one Commission race and one currently sits on the Portland City Council.

In the 2010 election cycle, one candidate for a Commission seat qualified, but was not successful in the primary.

Two special elections have been held since the enactment of this system.  The first was for a Commission seat that coincided with the 2008 Primary and had one qualified public finance candidate. In the second special election, for Auditor in May 2009, no candidate attempted to qualify for public funding.

In May 2010 the City Council referred the program to the voters for the November ballot:  Caption: Continues City public campaign financing for Mayoral, Commissioner, Auditor candidates. Question: Shall Portland provide public campaign financing to City candidates who meet qualifying requirements and are subject to additional regulatory oversight? A majority of ballots were cast to discontinue the program.

LWV Testimony & Communications

April 2005 - Testimony to Portland City Council (PDF, 92 KB)
Support enactment of public campaign finance system (Voter-Owned Elections) for Portland

April 2007 - Testimony to Portland City Council (PDF, 76 KB)
Support improvements to Voter-Owned Elections recommended by Citizen Campaign Commission

March 2008 - "In My Opinion" piece in The Oregonian (PDF, 60 KB)
Promoting Voter-Owned Elections

January 2009 - Testimony to Portland City Council (PDF, 72 KB)
Support for special election funds for auditor race

April 2009 - Memo to Portland City Council (PDF, 84 KB)
LWV response to Citizen Campaign Commission report and recommendations

January 2010 - Commentary published in The Oregonian  Commentary addresses US Supreme Court decision allowing entities to spend money on independent campaigns to elect or defeat candidates for federal offices

May 2010 - Testimony to Portland City Council (PDF, 53 KB) Testimony in support of placing Voter Owned Elections on the November 2010 ballot.

June 2010 - Commentary published in the Portland Tribune on Portland's Public Campaign Financing

June 2010 - Article in Street Roots

Other Resources

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