Ballot measure to change Portland government tops $400K in donations, mostly from a few advocacy groups

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The political campaign promoting a contested ballot measure to change Portland’s form of government and election system continues to draw big bucks from a small cluster of non-profit advocacy groups and wealthy backers.

Portland United for Change reported raising nearly $411,000 through Tuesday, records show, almost eight times what opponents to the Nov. 8 proposal have collected thus far.

Measure 26-228 would end Portland’s unique approach of having individual City Council members act as administrators over the city’s many bureaus and departments and turn most of that responsibility over to a professional city manager overseen by the mayor.

It would also create a 12-member City Council with three members elected from four geographic districts by a form of ranked-choice voting that requires only 25% to win and is not used in any major U.S. city. The mayor, elected citywide, would only be allowed to vote in the case of a tie and would not have veto power.

[How best to distribute political power in Portland? Fault lines erupt over charter ballot proposal]

The Coalition of Communities of Color, a racial and social justice umbrella organization, and its political arm, Building Power for Communities of Color, have together given more than $124,000 in cash and in-kind contributions since July, according to state filings.

Two other groups that advocate for historically marginalized communities and work closely with the Coalition of Communities of Color, Northwest Health Foundation and New Oregon Movement, contributed $50,000 and $20,000, respectively.

Corvallis-based Oregon Ranked Choice Voting Advocates and Maryland-based FairVote Action, which each promote electoral systems that allow voters to rank multiple candidates by preference in a single race, have given a combined $85,852.

Finally, North Star Civic Foundation, a good government think tank that’s long supported changes to Portland’s form of government, donated $12,652. Two of its board members, James Kelly and Christy Eugenis, contributed $20,000 each.

[Portland voters strongly favor ballot measure to reshape city government, poll finds]

All told, more than 80% of Portland United for Change’s contributions, or about $332,556, has come from these six groups and their board members. Another 144 individuals have given a little over $52,000, according to figures provided by the campaign.

Proponents have said the proposed city government overhaul would more fairly distribute power and offer better representation to communities that have historically lacked a seat at City Hall. The measure has won the support of more than 50 progressive, labor and civic groups, as well as numerous lawmakers representing east Portland.

Yet opponents, who are also in favor of dramatic changes to city government, believe that the prospect of a novel, largely untested system could potentially sow even more dysfunction than the status quo. They include longtime civic and neighborhood leaders predominately from the city’s west side, former Portland elected officials and City Hall staffers, and a smattering of wealthy businesspeople and power brokers.

[Mingus Mapps lays out alternate plan to remake Portland government, hoping it will dampen support for more sweeping option]

The Partnership for Common Sense Government, started by former charter commission member and failed 2022 City Council candidate Vadim Mozyrsky and two onetime aides to former Mayor Bud Clark, has reported raising just under $53,000, records show.

Its top contributors are real estate developers Jordan Schnitzer, who gave $10,000, and Robert Walsh and Daniel Deutsch, who each donated $2,500.

Opponents are asking Portlanders to reject the current measure in favor of alternate proposal released Monday by Commissioner Mingus Mapps, which would also end Portland’s commission form of government but instead create seven single-member council districts, give the mayor veto power and let voters decide separately whether to institute a different version of ranked choice voting used in places like New York City and Alaska.

Mapps said he plans to bring his alternate proposal to City Council next year should the current measure fail, with the hope of placing a different city government reform plan on the ballot in May 2023.

Email at skavanaugh@oregonian.com

Follow on Twitter @shanedkavanaugh

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