WE ARE STILL FIGHTING
In the summer of 2019, we collected signatures for a petition to create funding for clean elections in Portland.
Rather than putting the issue to voters directly, the city choose to put a charter commission on the ballot.
On July 14th, 2020 Portlanders voted in favor to change the Charter Commission. Here's why this is significant.
The overwhelming success of Question A is due to the efforts of Black Lives Matter Portland, Southern Maine Workers Center, Southern Maine DSA, ACLU Maine, and many other volunteers.
What started as a quest for public funding to make our elections more accessible has grown into a larger movement. We have people backing government change more than ever.
On June 8th, 2021, the Charter Commission election, Portland voters elected 9 candidates, all who had previously indicated support for municipal Clean Elections. For the second time, Portland voters have indicated their support for Clean Elections in the city. While the Charter Commission will take up a number of important structural questions, the charter revision process would not be happening at this time, except for the broad support for the Clean Elections charter amendment.
FEP filed its first suit against the City in September 2019. After extensive litigation, the Law Court ruled in June 2021 that the City had failed to provide an explanation for its position and remanded the case to the City for further proceedings. The Law Court noted that the City’s argument was lacking in factual support and that the City’s position was not obvious on the basis of available information.
On October 18, 2021 the City Council once again considered the proposed charter amendment, and again followed the instructions of Corporation Counsel to keep the measure off the ballot.
On November 17, 2021, FEP and 15 Portland voters filed suit against the City of Portland over the City’s continued refusal to place a ballot question before voters.
Although we are disappointed in the decision, Justice McKeon makes clear that nothing in the Charter or the Constitution compelled the 2019 City Council to reject the Clean Elections ballot question, nor the 2021 City Council to stand by that decision. It was up to the Council to decide. As the Court noted (p. 14) , ‘The City Council could have found that the proposal was an amendment.’ Fair Elections Portland has consistently argued that the Council should have designated the proposal as a charter amendment.
The Court also agreed with Fair Election Portland that, contrary to the instructions of corporation counsel last summer and fall, the 2021 Council ‘could have heard more evidence in light of the Law Court’s decision.’ (p. 11.) Fair Elections Portland has consistently argued that the Portland City Council should promptly reconsider its earlier decision and carefully weigh all of the evidence before it.
Over 8,000 Portland voters demanded the chance for a say on this measure. It will take a little longer for the will of the voters to be heard, but we remain confident that multiple options exist for reversing the 2019 City Council’s erroneous decision. While we weigh how vulnerable the court opinion is to appellate review, we will also consider more expeditious options for working with others who share our commitment to a pathway for prompt ballot placement.
Going forward, we will continue to establish clean elections in Portland. But we will also support the work of our community members and partners. We must hold our government accountable. We can create a city that's more inclusive and accessible to those traditionally left out. We will work to give a voice to the vulnerable.
About Public Campaign Funding
Everyone should be represented in our democracy - not just the wealthy. Ordinary people can’t write massive campaign checks or hire high-priced lobbyists that tilt the playing field in their favor at everyone else’s expense.
We need to keep the power of our government where it belongs - in the hands of the people. When politicians depend on contributions from large corporations, lobbyists, and special interest groups, they’re the ones holding all the power. We need a strong clean elections policy if we want our city government to work on solutions for us, instead of helping out rich corporations and their lobbyists.
We deserve politicians who are accountable to us. By allowing candidates in Portland to run for local office without having to depend on outside sources, we can keep our representatives honest and keep control of elections in the hands of the voters.
Public Funding Petition
PETITION TO THE CITY COUNCIL TO AMEND THE PORTLAND CITY CHARTER To Allow Public Funding for City Council, School Board, and Mayor
Adding a New Section
Section 12. Public Financing of Municipal Elections
The city council shall establish and fund a mechanism providing public campaign funds to qualified candidates for mayor, city council, and school board. The mechanism must provide sufficient funds to allow candidates who meet qualifying criteria to conduct competitive campaigns, must be voluntary, must limit the amount of private funds a candidate may raise, must only be available to candidates who demonstrate public support, and must be limited to candidates who enter into a binding agreement not to accept private contributions other than those allowed by the public funding program. The mechanism must be available by the 2021 municipal elections.
What does this mean? See our explainer here.