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Elections for Sale!

Palm Greasing and Glad-Handing on the Campaign Trail

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As the city's first election cycle with publicly funded campaigns comes screeching to an end, the candidates are using their fleeting time to scramble for the few undecided voters left in Portland. The differences in strategy are—at last—showing real disparities between the candidates' styles.

For instance, Oregon Senator Ginny Burdick, vying for Erik Sten's seat on city council, has used the past couple of weeks to make and spend a ton of money. Until last week, it appeared that Burdick—who's being backed by the Portland Business Alliance and large corporations—was going to keep her campaign spending at or under $150,000, the amount given to Sten under the Voter-Owned Elections program. Any additional fundraising or spending by Burdick means that Sten's campaign is eligible for matching funds from the city.

When she went over the cap by about $2,000, Burdick attempted to goad Sten into agreeing not to seek any more city money in matching funds. He declined, and applied for the funds. By the end of the week, Burdick reported that her over-spending had shot up by $30,000. Sten's campaign quickly applied for and received the matching money.

"I think they just can't come to grips with the fact that you can't buy elections in this town," Sten said. "Clearly, their strategy was to make a case [for not requesting matching funds] when it was just symbolic, and then come in with a large chunk of money."

Contributions and expenditures (C&E) reports filed last week with the city show where that new flood of money is coming from and going to. Large contributors include housing developer Robert Morey ($5,000), real estate mogul Roger Meier ($2,500), Qwest's Oregon Employees PAC, which gets all of its funding from the Qwest corporation ($1,000, for a total of $2,000), the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors ($1,000), SN Properties, a Schnitzer family endeavor ($5,000), Pacificorp ($1,000), M&M Properties ($1,000), and lo and behold, the Portland Business Alliance PAC (a whopping $10,000).

The money has largely been spent on mailings ($25,128 in "postage") and radio ads ($33,540) to seven Portland stations.

One of the major criticisms of the VOE system is that, by limiting challengers' ability to outspend incumbents, sitting politicians—who automatically have more name recognition—will always have an advantage. When matching funds go toward incumbents, it prevents challengers from leveling that advantage.

But Sten was unapologetic for taking the additional money.

"The system is designed to prevent people from buying elections, and that's what the matching funds are there for," Sten said.

Sten spent the weekend canvassing the Eastside with "about 100 volunteers."

Dave Lister, the other challenger for Sten's seat who has opted to raise campaign funds in the "traditional" way, has also brought in more money in the last month. In addition to the $30,000 he loaned himself, Lister has brought in a boatload of cash from the Portland Spirit crew ($1,000 from Portland Spirit President Dan Yates, $1,000 from American Waterways owner Wayne Kingsley, and nearly $6,000 in an in-kind donation from the company itself).

Earlier this month, he picked up $2,500 from the anti-tax, small government group Taxpayers Association of Oregon, and $1,000 from someone named Howard Rich, who lives in New York. Rich, who funds anti-tax initiatives across the country, is the chairman of Americans for Limited Government—a group that just gave $75,000 to Oregon's Taxpayer Bill of Rights initiative, which would slash the state's ability to pay for education and human services.

The final pre-election C&E report, which will contain more details on how money is being raised and spent, is due this Friday. For the latest election news and gossip, check out Blog Town, PDX every day at portlandmercury.com/blogtown.

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