Due to Potential Underfunding, the City Reduces Small Donor Elections Matching Funds Available to Candidates

Information
Read about the recent changes to the total matching funds available to candidates

January 18, 2024

The Small Donor Elections program’s purpose is to ensure the public can trust elections and its elected leaders. It matches the first $20 Portlanders give to participating candidates 9-to-1. This enables candidates to run for office using small contributions and matching funds alone, restoring confidence of Portlanders that their elected officials are working in all Portlanders’ best interests, not just the interests of those who make large campaign contributions.

The Mayor and Council decide how much funding to provide the Small Donor Elections program. If the program is underfunded, City Council requires the PEC first to ask Council for additional funds and second to prevent mid-election cycle program insolvency by reducing match caps and/or reducing the match rate.

In November 2022, voters passed Charter amendments that require all fourteen City offices to be elected in 2024 instead of the three offices that have historically been elected every two years. Covering fourteen races instead of three will temporarily increase the cost of the program and the PEC has been in active planning for both program adjustments and increased budget needs for the last 18 months. Whereas in 2020 there were 16 participating candidates in the regular and special elections and in 2022 there were seven participating candidates, for the 2024 election, 46 candidates have filed to use the program as of today and there are seven more months until the deadline to file to participate.

Sufficient funding is necessary for the program to meet its goal of increasing public trust in elections and our elected leaders. Since the Charter amendments passed, the Portland Elections Commission has been calling on Council to provide additional funding to the program. During this time we have sought to find incremental budget allocation options to help distribute the necessary program funding over time. The program has received flat funding in the FY2023-24 budget and no funding in the 2023 Spring and Fall BMPs. The Portland Elections Commission is now asking the Mayor and Council to provide $5.704 million to the program in the FY2024-25 budget, in addition to its usual funding of $1.383 million*.

Participating candidates may apply to be certified in the program beginning on February 1, 2024 and once certified, begin receiving funds that match contributions from Portlanders. To ensure all candidates are treated fairly and ensure program solvency through November 2024, we voted to reduce match caps as follows.

For Mayor: the $750,000 match cap is reduced to $100,000.
For Auditor: the $100,000 match cap is reduced to $40,000.

For Council:

The $300,000 match cap tier is reduced to $120,000.
The $200,000 match cap tier is reduced to $80,000.
The $100,000 match cap tier is reduced to $40,000.

There are two important potential changes to note:

  • If the Mayor proposes additional funding in the FY2024-25 budget in May and/or if participation or candidate fundraising is lower than estimated by the August participation deadline, we will increase match caps accordingly.
  • The Portland Elections Commission is authorized to increase the individual contribution limit from $350 to an amount up to $500 if match caps are significantly reduced. Before making the decision whether or how to do this, the Portland Elections Commission is gathering stakeholder and community feedback.

We realize that severe cuts undermine the purpose of Small Donor Elections and understand that a fully funded program serves to make elections accessible to a diverse array of candidates and an elected leadership accountable to all Portlanders. If match caps can be increased in 2024, we will increase them. In May, if additional funding is proposed in the Mayor’s FY2024-25 budget and/or 2024 Spring BMP, we will increase the match caps accordingly.  Once the participation deadlines pass in August 2024, if participation is lower than estimated, we will increase the match caps again.   

How much to fund the program is a City Council decision alone. If you have thoughts on program funding that you would like to share, we urge you to direct them to the Mayor and City Council here.

Amy Sample Ward
Chair
Portland Elections Commission

* The Portland Elections Commission conservatively estimates that the 2024 election will require $9,187,500 in matching funds. The program has $2.1 million in matching funds on hand and expects to receive $1.383 million if funded flat in the FY2024-25 budget. To prevent a shortfall, an additional $5.704 million is needed totaling $7.187 million. Even if all $7.187 million is received, if participation exceeds the conservative estimate, a modest reduction to match caps may still be necessary.
 

Small Donor Elections is an optional program. Candidates must evaluate for themselves whether they would rather run in or out of the program. Below is a chart that helps explain which campaign finance rules candidates run under if they opt-in or opt-out for SDE.

 

A chart showing the different rules for candidates who participate in SDE or decline to participate in SDE.