What is the Portland Clean Elections system?
Portland Clean Elections is a new, voluntary campaign funding system for candidates for local office. People running for public office in Portland now have the option to have their campaign financed by money from the city, as opposed to relying on private donations or using their own money.
This program will give the voters of Portland more opportunities to vote for candidates who aren’t influenced by big donors. It also gives you another way to evaluate candidates to decide if you want to give them your vote! How did they choose to fund their campaign? How much financial transparency did they give the public?
From the beginning, this process has been the result of popular demand and has been guided from start to finish by the people of Portland.
In 2020, local voters approved the creation of a Charter Commission to open up a review of the city’s charter. The commission – made up of three members selected by the city and nine chosen by voters – proposed eight changes to the city charter, one of which was to create a Clean Elections program for the city. All the proposed changes appeared on the ballot in the 2022 election, and Portland voters approved the Clean Elections ballot question by a 30% margin.
Now mandated by the charter to implement the program, the city of Portland worked with policy experts and members of the public to design a strong and effective Clean Elections system. The final program ordinance was passed by the city council on May 1, 2023, and the Clean Elections program is now in effect for all local elections.
To qualify for public funds, Clean Elections candidates collect $5 contributions from Portland voters by cash, check, or money order. If they get enough of those contributions to demonstrate that they are a serious candidate with public support, they can turn the contributions in to the city in exchange for a larger sum of money to spend on their campaign.
You cannot give a $5 contribution to a Clean Elections candidate more than once, but you can contribute to as many candidates as you like! You are also allowed to support your Clean Elections candidates in other ways, like volunteering or social media – you just can’t give them more money.
You can check the Portland city website to see which candidates have taken out Clean Elections papers. You can also check the candidates’ websites and social media. Feel free to ask them how they are funding their campaigns!
With the new program in place, we encourage all candidates for mayor, city council, and school board to run Clean, and Portland voters to donate $5 qualifying contributions to candidates that you support. With strong participation from candidates and citizens, Clean Elections will make our city better and ensure all voters' voices matter!
This new program is an important step toward separating the connection between private money and public office. In recent years, the amount of money required to run a successful campaign for Portland office has risen significantly, making it harder for candidates without the backing of wealthy donors to be competitive. But with Clean Elections, alternative candidates – particularly those from marginalized communities who may have less access to big-money donors – can now compete on equal footing.
While the program is a very exciting first step for Portland, it can always be improved. Currently, you can only give your $5 contributions to candidates in person, but we would like to see the city build a digital platform that allows voters to make their contributions online.