Friday, February 10, 2006

Clean Money: Who's Made It, Who Hasn't

As most of you know, we're following the inaugural (if it survives a repeal vote) Portland City campaign to utilize a public finance option, otherwise known as "clean money" or "voter-owned elections (VOE)." To date, the only candidate who has officially qualified for public money is Amanda Fritz. In the coming days we'll be publishing our two-part interview with the historic candidate, going in-depth on her thoughts about current government and how she aims to improve it.

Within the next few days, however, Amanda is likely to have some company (although not yet in competition for Dan Saltzman's Position 3). In conversations with declared VOE candidates or their representatives, LoadedO has learned that two more candidates plan to turn in their signature lists and file requests for certification.

Emilie Boyles, as her website now indicates, claims to have met the goal of 1,000 signatures/$5,000, and will present her paperwork to the City on Monday. As a now-viable candidate for Position 2 (currently held by Erik Sten), we'll probably take some time to talk with her about her campaign as well. Obviously understanding her new status, she has changed campaign managers, replacing Harold Visser with the more experienced Aaron Minoo, who leads District 47 of the Multnomah Democrats. In a very brief discussion narrowly focused on getting information for this story, Boyles was nonetheless able to sneak in a solid sound-bite for her candidacy: "It's a management issue."

The other candidate for Sten's job who claims to have completed the qualifying requirements, is...Erik Sten. His spokesperson said they think they made it yesterday, and will take their materials to the City on Tuesday.

In conversation with Boyles, she noted that they probably had an extra "50 or 60" contributors, which I termed a "buffer" and which Boyles did not challenge. However, Sten's person was a bit baffled by the same question. "It doesn't work that way," she said. It's not like a petition where you submit an extra 5-10,000 signatures in case some are invalid. If there is just one bad record among your 1,000, she said, you won't get the money.

As you might hope for staff of one of the architects of VOE, she's right. I talked for a bit with Susan Francois, City Elections Officer, and she explained the policy: one strike and you're out. The onus is on the petitioner to verify that their contributors are Portland residents, and the submission of certification documents represents a pledge that all submissions are properly valid. Francois allowed that perhaps if some entries were incomplete, preventing officials from validating them, as long as the deadline was still met they would probably accept them once completed. But if you present any ineligibles, you can forget the money.

Here's a quick rundown of the other candidates for Council who have declared an intent to qualify for public finance. Where comments are indented, I received reply via email:

(Erik Sten, incumbent)

Robert Ted Hinds:
I definitely would have been better off had I started before the holidays last year, but that's just how things play out when you are not a career politician and have a regular career to attend to. The only comment I can really make at this point is that asking for a complete residence address is a big turn-off to people when it's a lesser known candidate. Everybody has anxiety about scams and identity theft these days. That puts somebody like Sten who has his picture all over The Oregonian and Tribune at a huge advantage. I'd say there's about a 30-50% back-out rate when it comes to listing your address.

Hinds did not specifically mention his progress, but by his admission seems to be struggling a bit.

Jay "Boss" Rubin:
Rubin, Portland's favorite Swahili instructor and doughnut fryer, was exuberant about his chances of meeting the March 30th deadline for signatures ("I'm gonna meet the deadline!"), but would not say how far along he had gotten. When pressed (2/3? 50-50?), Rubin still refused. Under the "you'd tell me if the news were good" principle, we'll put him in the same category with Hinds.

Jory "Moof" Knott:
No response yet to inquiries.

(Dan Saltzman, incumbent)

Michael Casper
UPDATE 2/14--I got a call back from Mr. Casper. He supplied me with his new campaign website address, and spoke briefly about his progress. He estimates having about 500 signatures so far, and is daunted but hopeful about finishing the quest by March 30th. "I'm still trudging along; getting people together is the hardest part." Casper referred wistfully to Amanda Fritz's army of 100 volunteers getting signatures on her behalf. Although Casper has been planning his run for 18 months, and collecting signatures since September, when you're essentially on your own the going is rough. Casper also attributes some difficulty to the constituency he hopes to represent, which according to him is in many ways disengaged from the political process--renters, low income voters, etc. But far from being skeptical of tax money going to politicians, he reports that "not one person who I explained the system to had any problems about the City spending money on this. And people light up when they hear about the matching funds" for VOE candidates if self-financed opponents try to outspend them. So put Casper in with Lucinda Tate (see below) as strong "maybes" for Position 3.

Chris Iverson:
I thought I recognized the name! Chris is the primary presenter of Portland's "low marijuana enforcement" petition, that LoadedO blogged about a couple of days ago. Iverson was quite amiable in our brief conversation (I retract the "potential puffer" comment), and noted "I expect to fully collect them, although it will be very difficult. It's important, though, because it is the only way for our message to get out." Asked to guess at the number of signatures, Iverson responded with "about 150 or so." So he's got plenty of work to do.

Sharon Nasset:
Yes I will be able to meet the March deadline, thanks. I am unsure of how many signatures we have at the moment we have been inviting friends and family to help out. Just getting that going is a challenge...With the candidate having only $100 they can donate them selves..... rent, phone, flyers, copies of petitions, material, website, buttons, signs and my kick-off party at $5 a shot is very hard. I think a candidate should be about to spend at least $2000 on their own campaign...... most of this and the rules as they are still leave you at a great advantage...Commissioner Saltzman signed up and declared $150,000+ which he has been raising for months.

Just to clarity, Ms. Nasset is correct that the individual limit is $100, but donations totalling as much as $15,000 may be collected towards "seed money" for gathering signatures.

Tres Shannon
[no contact info; I may have to go buy a doughnut to find out how things are going].

Don Smith:
No response yet to inquiries

Lucinda Tate:
According to what appears to be a recent update to her website (given that she refers to March 20 as "less than six weeks away,"), Ms. Tate is roughly halfway there, with about 500 signatures. As such, she is likely the furthest along among those who don't claim to be ready, and also quite possibly is Fritz's only competition for "people's candidate" against Saltzman. There are other candidates who may still potentially file (eg Ginny Burdick), but since you cannot solicit contributions until you do, I can only assume that those who intend to file but have not, will eschew VOE.

Should Boyles, Sten and Tate all qualify, they would receive $150,000 for the primary contests. Since that would put two VOE candidates in each race, potentially all four could also qualify for general election funds. If that were to happen, the total outlay for the 2006 cycle would be $1.4 million [corrected total--ed]. If either Sten or Boyles won the primary outright (with 50% or more), the City would save $400,000 [again--ed]in general election financing. Of course the same is true for Fritz and Tate; remember, Saltzman is not running under VOE.

In the course of talking with the candidates, most of them tried to impress upon me how difficult the challenge of qualifying was. As noted, one of Hinds' comments was that prospective contributors tend to be loathe to give out their full addresses to people they don't know. My idea to help remedy that difficulty would be some kind of ID or document from the City that would allow VOE-declared candidates to carry an official imprimatur, so as to soothe residents' anxiety. I had another thought about how to augment the fund, perpetuate it, and minimize taxpayer costs: matching donations.

Say you're Erik Sten, and you've got plenty of well-heeled donors who nonetheless can only give you $5 or at best $100 seed money. What if individuals could donate greater amounts to a candidate--provided they donate a matching amount to a VOE trust fund? For example, if a Schnitzer or a Naito wanted to kick in $5,000, they could do so if they also wrote a $5,000 check to the VOE fund for future elections. You could cap the contributions ($50,000 for instance), keeping the playing field more or less level. The donations would be a signal of committment and belief in public financing, and would help ease costs to the City for future elections.