Salinas, Hardesty, Colquitt: Don't let big money in politics drown out all our voices
As we have seen many states enact laws to restrict access to democracy while seeing money erode public trust in our political system, Oregon should take the opposite track and expand democracy in the Legislature.
Many think of getting big money out of politics as a corruption issue. However, it is so much more than that. Limiting the amounts ultra-wealthy individuals and corporations can give in political races not only improves our democracy, but it also changes who can run and ultimately who can be elected. The Oregon House is considering House Bill 3343, which we see as one possible model of rectifying this issue.
It is not a coincidence that in the first election under Portland's real contribution limits, the city elected a majority BIPOC City Council for the first time in its 176-year history. Historically, to successfully win office to become a viable candidate would have to bundle together the funds of many wealthy individuals or take large contributions from corporations or PACS. This means that a small group of people have enormous sway over deciding who is electable. Nationally, and here in Portland, BIPOC communities have less access to wealth and will be disadvantaged by any system that makes decisions based on that very same network of wealth.
Solutions like HB 3343 are on the BIPOC Caucus agenda that is in part why we are proud to support this real campaign finance reform.
When elections grow increasingly costly, candidates must necessarily spend increasing amounts of time fundraising. Spending time listening disproportionately to a small and heavily skewed segment of society, gives a distorted view of the desires of the electorate. The historical donor class has different top priorities, and when fundraising is the path to success the priorities of the wealthy are over-reflected in what candidates hear about on the campaign trail. These are all issues that disproportionately impact BIPOC community members.
Real campaign finance reform enhances who participates in our democracy. Not everyone can knock on doors or make calls. Some community members' only way to contribute to a campaign is the $5 it took them a week to save. However, right now, many of those community members see that their $5 alone does not matter in a system where Phil Knight can drown out many voices in our democracy, especially those with less access to wealth when he writes a single $3.4 million check. Effective legislation on this topic must ensure no one can give unlimited amounts of money to effectively attempt to purchase an election.
In short, Oregon, which has some of the most expensive elections in the country, must make getting big money out of politics part of this uprising to ensure that we have elected officials that are willing and able to follow through on the promises of a racial reckoning we are at. Solutions like HB 3433 will make our democracy more diverse by broadening who participates and who is able to successfully run for office.
The voices that are being shut out of our democracy by allowing unfettered campaign contributions will strengthen our communities and our state. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape Oregon's political landscape and uplift voices and perspectives that have historically been discounted.
The Legislature must not miss this moment to make the structural changes to empower historical marginalized community members in a way that makes them equal participants in our democracy.
State. Rep. Andrea Salinas represents House District 38 in Clackamas County. Jo Ann Hardesty is a Portland city commissioner. Rosa Colquitt is chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon's Black Caucus.
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