Another reason Portland is odd: free money to run for office

If this man gathers 1,500 signatures and $5 from each of those folks, he can have another $192,500 to bankroll his campaign for mayor.
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Portland mayoral candidate Sho Dozono. (

If this man gathers 1,500 signatures and $5 from each of those folks, he can have another $192,500 to bankroll his campaign for mayor.

Frankly, I don't know if Sho Dozono has the right stuff to be Portland's mayor. Right this minute I don't care. Along with lots of other Portlanders, I'm just getting a kick out of the fact that this successful local businessman and civic macher is hoisting at least one candidate-of-the-people on his own (hemp) petard.

Here's what's up: Portland, along with countless other quirky traits, has a campaign financing doodad that enables regular folks to run for city office without the benefit of a trust fund or an inner circle of well-heeled buddies. It sounds simple enough: Get 1,500 registered Portland voters to each donate $5 and fill out a simple form, and – presto! You qualify for a pile of public money to use for your campaign expenses. Dozono stands to get $192,500, which represents the $200,000 available in public money minus the $7,500 he raised earlier.

It's tougher than it appears at first glance. Those little forms have to be filled out just right, or out they go, so the few candidates who do get to the public-money finish line make it because volunteers spend a lot of time hand-holding and saying things like: "Now, sign right here – no! Not that line! This line!

(An aside: There was some question about whether these public funds could be gathered for one race, then used for another if the candidate decides to run for a seat in a special election. The answer is no, as reported in this update in the Oregonian.)

Dozono announced his candidacy recently, leaving himself until Jan. 31 to do the hunting and gathering. He's said that if he doesn't get the 1,500 necessary fins-and-sigs, he won't run. When I talked to Amie Abbott, his campaign manager, this week, she said he was more than halfway to the goal. So I'm betting on Sho to show.

The fun part is knowing that a Dozono opponent – mayoral hopeful Sam Adams – is watching someone use this financing tool, gaining a lot of ink as a grassroots sorta candidate. Adams, a city commissioner and a people's guy all the way, isn't trying to access public money and is now left somewhat lamely repeating that he won't spend more than the amount that a public-funds wielding opponent will get.

No one has summed up this little irony better than the growling Portland Tribune columnist Phil Stanford (if he ever retires, it will be like the public library burning down):

The point is that by seeking public financing, Dozono has, at least momentarily, out-progressived his principal opponent, Sam Adams, who already is filling his war chest with private donations, although, of course, none more than $500. Because what could be more progressive–with the possible exception of more bike lanes and sod roofs for public buildings – than "clean money," as it was called when the measure was enacted three years ago?

Seriously now: Adams, it needs to be said, is a smart, capable representative. He got elected because he eschewed tired political rhetoric and has steadily gained in popularity thanks to an excellent grasp of issues people care about – as well as tireless public appearances and savvy communication, especially on the web. If he wins, he could be a good mayor. Ribbing him because he's been smart enough to latch onto the issues that play well with the bike-riding/sustainable universe set isn't really fair, but it sure is fun.

Dozono hasn't held public office, but he's got a lifetime of watching and working for Portland's schools, tourism, business, and charitable needs. His volunteer and staff army have attracted some of the brain power from the best days of former Mayor Vera Katz's reign, including campaign manager Abbott. (Who, by the way, pretty much sounds like someone who just won Powerball when she talks about working for this guy.) Dozono's list of civic accomplishments is impressive, from public-school improvements to using his expertise in the travel-agency biz to promote morale-building post-9/11 trips to New York and to lend a hand with tsunami victims in Thailand. This record of active local/global caring plays well, as it should.

So stay tuned for the continuing soap opera, As the Money Turns. Will the hard-working volunteers gather enough valid signatures and checks? Will the People's Democratic Republic of Portland prove that campaigns can in fact be run (maybe won) one five dollar bill at a time?


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