Wednesday, February 01, 2006

In Which We See Who Likes Buyable Elections

If you are interested in following the Portland election season, an indispensable tool is the City's email update service. I've discovered that they're mighty efficient for keeping you abreast when new candidates file, when they meet the test for public financing, and when the financial/contribution standards come out.

That's what dropped in my mailbox today: the somewhat eagerly awaited contributor list for "First Things First," the alliance developed to repeal voter owned elections in Portland before they start. Like Jack Bog, it turns out, I anticipated that the who's-who among backers of the repeal was going to be largely the same as the who's-who of Portland business money posted on their website as 'endorsers.'

We weren't disappointed. Remember now, these are people and companies who want to maintain the current system that enables them to give large sums to candidates for Portland office. Here's what some of them did in 2004's election season:

Voter-Owned Elections Opponents

2004 City Contributions

Chief Petitioners (David Chown, Eva Kripalani and Mark A. Long)


Gard & Gerber (PR firm working on initiative)


Portland Business Alliance PAC


Portland Business Alliance Board Members
(excluding chief petitioners – 64 business and individual contributors)


Associated General Contractors (from AGC’s PAC, Building a Better Oregon)


Portland Metro Association of Realtors


Oregon Restaurant Association


Contribution Totals


* Includes $9500 from PBA Board Members into the PBA PAC.

Let's take a look--are these heavy hitters coincidentally against taking the big dollar influence out of campaigns? Anyone care to wager?

Gard & Gerber--$9,400
PBA PAC--a grand total since the new year of $32,000
Oregon Restaurant Assoc--a total of $10,500

No sign of the Realtors Association so far, although there's no shortage of realtors and developers. Melvin Mark's empire gave under several fronts: $2,500 from a trust, $1,000 personally, and $2,000 from the president of Melvin Mark corporation. Gerding/Edlin similarly double dipped, the company kicking in $2,000 and Mark Edlin adding another $1,000.

There are Schnitzers of all stripes and IRS filing codes throughout the statement. Other notables include City Center Parking ($3,000), Qwest ($7,500), Columbia CEO Tim Boyle ($1,000), Stoel Rives ($3,500), PGE ($7,500), Standard Insurance ($2,500), NW Natural ($2,500) and even...sniff...Michael Powell ($500).

A veritable laundry list of influentials in Portland, people and businesses who seem to have business come before Council now and again. If--as some critics say while doing a great balancing act--that influence peddling doesn't necessarily work and anyway if you curb it the money will find its way back somehow, then why are these notables lining up to fight voter owned elections?

Well, for some of them it's a good deal. Remember Gard and Gerber's generous donation? They made it back. I count at least $70,000 in FtF payments to the firm since December, for everything from paying petition circulators to management services to postage and printing. Stoel Rives also did well for their trouble, earning $20,000 in legal fees. But pound for pound, no one has enjoyed the repeal effort more than Laura Imeson, a management consultant. Receiving payments beginning in August 2005, Imeson has billed FtF for nearly $40,000, plus another $800 in reimbursement for a fundraiser in January.

With all that upfront money--I haven't mentioned the tens of thousands spent on signature gathering--it's no wonder that the campaign comes into the heart of the May ballot season with less than $1,000 on hand. Not only that, they're in dutch to the tune of almost $160,000 in outgoing expenses. You can guess why their major backer, the PBA, starting kicking in money pretty rapidly over the last month or so. So we'll see whether this lull is a fruitful period for the clean money advocates, who now have a roster of repealers to focus on as agitants for the freedom to make another Francesconi-style millionare.

**update: no matter which blog I'm writing for, somebody at Blue Oregon is working to beat me to the journalistic punch. Chris Smith gives more info on the donor comparison list; he says this list of donors was good for half a million in the 2004 cycle. And he wonders where the money went, too.