After each election cycle , the Portland Elections Commission is required to review the program’s performance, publish a report detailing it, and make recommendations to City Council on how to update the Small Donor Elections code to stay aligned with a constantly changing campaign finance landscape.
The Portland Elections Commission members consider what the program did well, where it could improve, and the overall impact that small donor matching had on our democracy. They analyze user experience research as well as campaign finance data and the program's experience implementing during that election cycle. Informed by this, the Portland Elections Commission makes recommendations on how to improve the program, including recommendations to City Council to update the code but also changes to program Administrative Rules and internal policies and practices.
The Portland Elections Commission’s 2022 report is available to the public. You can read it by clicking here:
In December 2021, the Open and Accountable Elections program’s name was changed to Small Donor Elections, and the Open and Accountable Elections Commission was changed to the Portland Elections Commission.
The 2020 elections were the Small Donor Elections program’s first election cycle. After the election cycle ended, the Portland Elections Commission reviewed the program’s performance. It considered what the program did well, where it could improve, and the overall impact that small donor matching had on our democracy.
These were a few of the key findings from the report:
- Smaller contributions now dominate campaign fundraising. The average contribution per donor fell from $1,221 in 2016 to $81 in 2020, and the median contribution plummeted from $250 per donor to $50 per donor.* Candidates were far less reliant on big donations from wealthy donors. This helped to boost the public’s confidence in the integrity of local government.
- Contributors are more evenly spread across the City. Data showed that lower-income and more diverse neighborhoods gave more than they had in previous elections. Donors living in North, Northeast, and East Portland were more represented in campaign giving, and a far higher percentage of donors were everyday individuals--as opposed to special interests. A majority reported that they had never given to a candidate for City office before. OAE successfully broadened our democracy and brought more first-time donors from marginalized communities into local politics.
- SDE experienced a high participation rate, suggesting that it was designed to enable candidates to be competitive. Candidates wanted to participate. Two-thirds of competitive candidates opted to run under small donor matching. Six of the seven candidates who either won or made it to the runoff, and all three new City Commissioners, joined SDE. The program is well-designed and helps candidates succeed.
While the program was overall very successful, there were areas of improvement. The Commission used qualitative and quantitative information to recommend a number of changes to make the program more effective, fair, responsive, and efficient. Those recommendations are in the report. Many of them were adopted and have now been incorporated into the program’s rules.
The Portland Elections Commission’s report is available to the public. You can read it by clicking here:
User Experience Report
The Small Donor Election program worked with a user experience researcher to release a User Experience Report. SDE staff conducted in-depth interviews with both participating and non-participating candidates, campaign staff, treasurers, community organizations, contributors, and members of the public who engaged with the program.
The goal was to gain a clear picture of how the program worked for our community. We asked for direct and unvarnished feedback. Here’s what the researcher found:
- Most candidates said that the program was worth it. They specifically cited as a benefit using the match to empower small donors, and how it allowed many without wealthy networks to run. Almost all candidates said they would participate again if given the chance.
- There was near-unanimous praise for how SDE staff ran the program. Candidates, staff, and treasurers noted staff’s responsiveness and competence. As one candidate put it: “OAE was like a concierge who wants you to succeed. For that alone, especially for brand new campaigns, I would tell people to use the program.”
- The most common critique was that participants would like to see the program’s rules be adjusted to be simpler to navigate, as well as reduce the differences between Small Donor Elections and Honest Elections, which are separate programs. The Portland Elections Commission listened to this community feedback, and issued a number of recommendations to address these concerns.
We believe that the best way to improve our program is to listen to the communities that use it. The Portland Elections Commission incorporated much of the feedback that it received into the changes that it recommended to the program.
The User Experience Report is also available to the public, and can be viewed by clicking here:
Download PDF file 2021 User Research Report (364.49 Kb)
*Comparing a representative selection of 2016 candidates to candidates who used SDE in 2020. Because donors who contribute under $100 aren’t reported by non-participating candidates, the program had to look at a data set that included a representative sample of 2016 candidates which we were able to obtain data from that included contributors to gave under $100, so a fair comparison could be made between the two election cycles.