Portland voters will have the opportunity this fall - despite the efforts of the powerful Portland Business Association - to vote on the city's innovative experiment on the public financing of elections (known as the Voter Owned Elections project).
For leaders of the faith community, the public financing of elections has long been a goal.
A 1997 statement issued by the National Council of Churches USA and others stated:
"Campaign finance reform is not simply a political or public relations dilemma but a moral matter. The temptation to use money to buy unjust favors is an ancient one. The prophet Amos thundered against those merchants who "sell the righteous for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes.and push the afflicted out of the way." (Amos 2:6-7 NRSV).
Groups like the Portland Business Alliance oppose the public financing of elections because it erodes their power and undue influence over public policy.
The 21st General Synod of the United Church of Christ adopted the following statement on campaign fiance reform:
WHEREAS, Scripture teaches us: "You shall not pervert justice, you shall not show partiality, and you shall not take a bribe ... justice, and only justice, you shall follow ..." (Deuteronomy 16:19-20), and we are reminded in the parable of the lost sheep of the importance of every person (Matthew 18:12, Luke 15:4); and Jesus reminds us that "if anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all" (Mark 9:35);
WHEREAS, the United Church of Christ Constitution states: "The United Church of Christ recognizes that God calls the whole church and every member to participate in and extend the ministry of Jesus Christ by witnessing to the Gospel in church and society;"
WHEREAS, trust in our democratic process is threatened by the present system of financing campaigns for public office which allows businesses and political action committees to contribute at least twice as much as individuals and allows for the appearance of improper influence in the legislative process by large contributors, and correspondingly discourages participation by persons of lesser means;
WHEREAS, candidates spend an inordinate amount of time raising increasing amounts of money rather than speaking with the people about issues that affect our common life; and
WHEREAS, over 20 states have public financing legislation, and recent studies have shown that campaign finance reform legislation enjoys broad bipartisan support and that such legislation would enable qualified persons of limited means to be candidates for public office;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Twenty-first General Synod of the United Church of Christ is in support of legislation which seeks more equitable campaign financing, through, but not limited to, the establishment of a voluntary fund from which candidates for public office may equally receive campaign and media funding, and through a significantly reduced cap on contributions which applies equally to businesses, PACs and individuals...
In the intervening years the problem has become worse. The recent Supreme Court decision - Citizens United vs the FEC - now allows for unlimited spending by corporations during elections. Their money and power will overwhelm our democratic systems.
You can expect that the Portland Business Alliance and other powerful interest groups will fight hard to defeat Portland's Voter Owned Elections. They'll spend as much cash as possible to maintain their position of power regardless of the cost to our democracy.
I will work with faith leaders here in Oregon to continue support for the public financing of elections. This will be one of the most important moral debates to occur during the fall 2010 election cycle in Oregon and will help inform the national debate.