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Frequently Asked Questions about Open and Accountable Elections
What is the Open & Accountable Elections program?
Open and Accountable Elections is a matching program that multiplies small donations from Portland residents to ensure that all Portlanders matter in City elections. Similar powerful and proven programs have worked in 32 cities, states, and counties across the country, including San Francisco, New York City, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, Maine, and Maryland.
The Open & Accountable Elections program enables candidates to run for Mayor, Auditor, or City Commissioner without accepting large contributions, by instead getting their small contributions matched by the City’s Open & Accountable Elections Fund.
Which candidates can get small contributions matched?
The requirements for getting small contributions matched are:
- The candidate must be running for Mayor, Auditor, or City Commissioner
- The candidate must prove they have broad community support and are serious about running for office by collecting hundreds of small contributions from Portland residents in order to get certified as matchable. Candidates running for Mayor must collect contributions between $5 and $250 from 500 Portlanders. Candidates running for Auditor or City Commissioner must collect contributions between $5 and $250 from 250 Portlanders.
- Matchable contributions must be from Portland residents at least 18 years of age, who are citizens or permanent residents (per federal election law).
Please note that the name and street address donors who are matchable, along with the dates and amounts of their contributions, are public records and will periodically be released on the program website.
Which contributions are matchable?
The first $50 you give a candidate can be matched it:
- You are a Portland resident at least 18 years of age who is a citizen or permanent resident.
- The candidate you donated to gets certified to use the program.
- The City can verify that the contribution was from you and you are eligible to be matched.
- You have not donated to another candidate in the same race and already had that donation matched
Please note that the name and street address donors who are matchable, along with the dates and amounts of their contributions, are public records and will periodically be released on the program website
How much can candidates receive in matching funds?
Candidates receive up to a 6-to-1 match on the first $50 from an eligible donor in the primary, and if they qualify for the general election, they can receive the first $50 from the same donor matched again. This 6-to-1 matching ratio helps ensure that candidates have enough funds to compete and get their message out to voters. For instance, 500 contributions averaging $25 would turn $12,500 into $75,000. Contributions continue to get matched as candidates raise small contributions and follow program rules, up to the overall spending cap set by the program.
What are the rules for candidates participating in the Open & Accountable Elections program?
Candidates participating in the program must follow rules about how to raise and spend campaign funds:
- They are limited to accepting $250 per donor per election.*
- They may only accept contributions from people, not businesses, unions, or political committees.*
- They may only raise $950,000 ($380,000 in the primary, $570,000 in the general) if running for Mayor or $550,000 ($250,000 in the primary, $300,000 in the general) if running for Auditor or City Commissioner.**
- They may only spend their funds on legitimate campaign expenses, and certain expenses, like election night parties, can’t be made using public matching funds.
*There is an exception for seed money, to help a candidate get started in raising hundreds of qualifying contributions, and an exception for in-kind contributions.
**If a participating candidate is running against a non-participating candidate who exceeds the fundraising limit, the participating candidate is released from it (with additional rules applying).
I'm interested in running for office. How would I participate in Open and Accountable Elections?
The Open and Accountable Elections program is optional for candidates to participate in. Candidates must apply to join the program.
If you are interested in running in the 2022 elections, you can file your Notice of Intent and take the mandatory training as soon as Dec 18, 2020. But before signing up, potential candidates should review the step-by-step guide that our office has shared, explaining how to participate in the program.
What is the difference between Honest Elections and Open & Accountable Elections?
Honest Elections is a campaign finance reform package passed by City voters in 2018 and Multnomah County voters in 2016. The Honest Elections reforms include contribution limits and disclosure of donors on campaign ads. Parts of Honest Elections reforms have been struck down at the trial court level and is under consideration by the state Supreme Court.
One of the main differences is a restriction on any individual donating more than $500 in any election cycle. Under Honest Elections, those donations are largely forbidden. Under Open and Accountable Elections, donations are restricted to $250 except that the initial seed money of $5,000 can be donated in a lump sum or in larger donations, as can certain in-kind donations. To be prudent, candidates for OAE should consider restricting even seed money donations to not more than $500.
If a candidate is running under Open and Accountable Elections, they must follow some of the Honest Elections rules, but are exempt from other provisions. Please refer to our page on Honest Elections for more information.
Can I donate to support the Open and Accountable Elections Fund?
Anyone can donate to the Open & Accountable Elections Fund, to help the City ensure the program can offer a full 6-to-1 match on small contributions from Portlanders.
Mail or drop off a donation to the Open & Accountable Elections Fund to Open & Accountable Elections, 1221 SW 4th Ave, Room 220, Portland, OR 97204.
If paying by check, make it out to “City of Portland.” You may request a receipt for your contribution.
The fact that you donated to the Open & Accountable Elections Fund will be listed in the Open & Accountable Elections Commission minutes.
How would I spread the word about this program?
Please spread the word about Open and Accountable Elections! When you share information about the program, it ensures that potential candidates know that small donor matching can be an option for their campaigns, and that community members can use it to amplify their voices.
You can share information by distributing this flier about the program. You can follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter for updates. Or if you are part of a community organization, please contact our office and invite a staff member to come address your next meeting.
Why is this program important?
The Open and Accountable Elections program is designed to ensure that every Portlander’s participation in our democracy is important. Our government works best when every person is engaged in the elections process and can make a difference in the community. The program fosters an inclusive democratic process where everyone participates and everyone’s contributions matter. A community where people from all walks of life can run for and win office, while avoiding concerns about the influence of large donations in City elections. We’re strongest when our elected city leaders reflect the full range of talent and lived experience that Portland has to offer, and when the community trusts that elected leaders share the community’s values. People from every neighborhood in Portland should have meaningful opportunities to influence who is elected to City offices, and to run effective citywide campaigns.