Portland’s City Council approved an amended plan to adopt a required clean elections program Monday night.
The clean elections program that was approved by voters last fall stemmed from a recommendation from the Charter Commission. It is similar to the statewide program, where qualifying candidates are provided funding to run for seats rather than privately fundraising.
The amendment and final vote were both 5-3, with Mayor Kate Snyder and Councilors Mark Dion and Andrew Zarro opposed. Councilor Pious Ali was absent from the meeting. Councilor Anna Trevorrow authored the successful amendment along with Councilor Roberto Rodriguez, and added clean elections “levels the playing field” for candidates who otherwise might not run for office.
“The frame with which I am approaching this is to fulfill what I see as the council’s obligation to create a program that is attractive and viable to candidates, so the program can do what it’s supposed to, prevent private interests from entering into campaigns and equal the playing field for candidates who don’t have access to big donors,” Trevorrow said in defending her amendment.
The adopted measure would allocate $465,000 in this year’s budget for the first year of the program, and would subsequently add $290,000 each year following.
Interim City Manager Danielle West said this measure still has to go before the Council’s Finance Committee, where it could face changes. She initially called for a funding level of $260,000 in her proposed budget.
She and the lawyers aiding the city in crafting this measure also said future councils are not beholden to the numbers the current council calls for.
Councilor Mark Dion proposed an amendment which would have nixed the Trevorrow-Rodriguez amendment, though it failed 6-2, with only Snyder joining him. Snyder had also proposed amendments to lower the funding level for citywide seats, saying she didn’t think something like a mayoral race should cost over $100,000.
“It’s not that I don’t support a clean elections program, but I have to for the record say I have reservations with the decisions made in here,” Snyder said.
Snyder and Dion also had concerns with candidates getting initial funding early. In contested mayoral races, candidates can get $40,000 initially, but can then receive up to $100,000 total based on qualifying contributions. At-large city council races can see candidates receiving up to $30,000 compared to up to $12,000 for district seats after initial rounds of funding.
“I recognize this proposal is taking a leap of faith,” Trevorrow said. “But I think it’s worth it to create a program that candidates are going to use.”
With the clean elections program, candidates can register on June 1 this year for citywide races, such as the upcoming mayoral election. At that point, they can begin to collect qualifying contributions of $5 from voters.
Snyder said the Council will look into a November referendum to align filing dates so that clean elections candidates aren’t fundraising before they are official candidates on a city ballot.
The clean elections program would increase the initial first-year allotment for what taxpayers would provide to participating municipal candidates.