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Election system shows its flaws

Portland’s system of “voter-owned” elections is getting more problematic by the day. Most recently, we have watched city Commissioner Sam Adams use the system’s rules to try to knock his chief opponent out of the 2008 mayor’s race. But even prior to this latest round of bickering, plenty of evidence was accumulating that the rules for public campaign financing in Portland were too easy to bend or evade. The system has been tweaked since scandal-ridden City Council candidate Emilie Boyles was asked to pay back $145,000 in taxpayer money two years ago. Those changes, however, have yet to revive much confidence in a poorly structured program that could cost the city in the neighborhood of $1.5 million this year — perhaps enough to pay for 15 police officers. Just since the start of 2008, one City Council candidate has asked if he could use his public campaign money to fill potholes in the streets. Then came new worries that independent political groups won’t be bound by the expenditure limits that are supposed to apply to candidates who qualify for public financing. Poll has been trouble for Dozono While such cracks in the system continue to be discussed, the public-financing issue drawing the most attention this week involves the political fate of mayoral candidate Sho Dozono. Dozono, a successful businessman, presumably could have raised enough money from private sources to pay for a credible campaign against front-runner Adams; however, he opted for public financing and collected the required $5 contributions from 3,700 registered Portland voters. But Dozono has been dogged nearly from the start by claims that he violated the clean-money rules when he reviewed a poll conducted on his behalf by a political lobbyist. The survey was done before Dozono was an official candidate, but its cost — $27,295 — exceeded the $12,000 limit on in-kind contributions allowed by the clean-money program. City Auditor Gary Blackmer already has ruled — correctly, we believe — that Dozono remains eligible because the poll was conducted prior to his candidacy. But Adams and three lesser-known mayoral candidates appealed the matter to a state hearings officer Monday. A forfeit is no way to win No matter the outcome, we believe Adams would have been wiser to accept Blackmer’s decision and move ahead with the campaign. Just by appealing the ruling and preparing 35 pages of legal arguments, Adams gave the impression he was willing to win this race on a technicality. What Portlanders want from Adams, Dozono and the other candidates running for mayor is a thorough discussion of issues confronting Portland — not a legal battle over the details of voter-owned elections. Rather than joust with Dozono over this polling matter, Adams should focus on running a vigorous campaign. If voters choose him over Dozono and his lesser-known opponents, he will have a clearer mandate and greater credibility as Portland’s next mayor. If he instead waltzed into office with no serious opposition, Adams would be viewed as a mayor elected by default. Voters also will see the irony in Adams’ attempt to deny public dollars to a candidate. As a city commissioner, Adams helped create voter-owned elections, although he chose to run his current campaign on private individual donations of no more than $500. Whether Adams wins this race using private money or Dozono wins it with public financing, we hope the next mayor makes sure the system is either improved or abolished.