To counter big-money politics, Portland City Council votes for public campaign finance

Portlanders are about to find out what a City Council looks like when candidates don’t need to rely on big campaign contributors. In a 3-2 vote Dec. 14, Portland City Council approved a public campaign finance program.

Starting in 2020, the City will provide a six-to-one match for small contributions of up to $50 — for candidates for mayor and city council who agree to certain limits on campaign contributions. City Council candidates in the program could get up to $144,000 in public funds for the primary and $216,000 for the general election — if they agree to accept no more than $250 from any individual, and to limit total contributions to $250,000 in the primary and $300,000 in the general election. The figures are about double that for mayoral candidates. The ordinance limits the program to 0.2 percent of the City’s General Fund — about $1.2 million a year.

The program was modeled on similar programs elsewhere, including New York City and Los Angeles, and states such as Connecticut, Arizona, and Maine. Portland was the fourth jurisdiction to pass some kind of public campaign financing in 2016, following Berkeley, California; Howard County, Maryland; and the state of South Dakota.

The ordinance was sponsored by City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, but she said the proposal was driven by a coalition of unions and non-profit groups. UFCW Local 555, SEIU Oregon State Council, CWA Local 7901 and Oregon Working Families Party were among the 31 groups in the coalition.

Fritz was joined by Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Steve Novick in voting for the ordinance. Commissioners Dan Saltzman and Nick Fish voted against it, after arguing that it should go be before voters for approval.

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