Strike Two for Portland Voter Owned Elections

The Portland City Council, in its collective wisdom, imposed a system of public campaign financing in 2005. The goal was to reduce the impact of large special interest dollars on campaigns for city offices. So how’s that working out?

First, in 2006, Emily Boyles received $145,000 in public funding for her city council run, but ended up owing the money back because of things like paying her 16-year old daughter for “web marketing,” and making advance rent payments for campaign space beyond the primary election. Needless to say, the city is still out most of the cash.

Now, in just the second election cycle since Voter Owned Elections hit the scene, the only viable candidate for Mayor trying to use the system was just ruled ineligible because he inadvertently accepted a large in-kind contribution for a poll taken before he even became a candidate.

Businessman Sho Dozono easily qualified for $161,000 in public funds to run against current commissioner Sam Adams. But Adams and others challenged Dozono’s right to public funding because they claimed the poll contribution violated the rules. City Auditor Gary Blackmer disagreed, but last week a judge interpreted the convoluted rules as disqualifying Dozono, and he’s now scrambling for private donations with the election less than eight weeks away.

Portland voters are scheduled to have their say on the future of this flawed system in 2010. But with Voter Owned Elections racking up a zero for two record already, it may be time to pull the plug early and put this debacle behind us.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based think tank.