Sal Peralta: Crashing the parties

Can Stock Photo
Can Stock Photo

Last November, voters delivered a stunning rebuke to the political establishment about the need to put an end to the rigging of our elections by insider politicians and the monied elite.

No, I am not speaking about Donald Trump becoming the nation’s next president, but about two little-known county-level ballot measures that passed here in Oregon.

The first was Multnomah County Measure 26-184, which passed 90 percent to 10 percent, the widest margin ever for a Multnomah County ballot initiative.

his measure limits campaign contributions to candidates running for county chair, county commissioner, county auditor, sheriff,or district attorney to $500 per person — and zero from corporations or unions. The measure also limits independent expenditures in county races to $5,000 per person and $10,000 per registered political committee. It also requires political mail and advertisements to identify the top five donors to the candidate’s campaign, similar to laws in California, Maine and, now, South Dakota. Any advertising paid for by “independent expenditures” also must list the top five sources of funding.

This ballot measure has legal ramifications extending far beyond Multnomah County. It will set in motion a series of legal challenges designed to make the state of Oregon begin to enforce at least some of the campaign finance laws already on the books. One reason that proponents placed the measure on the ballot is under the last two Democratic administrations, the state of Oregon has refused to enforce campaign finance laws passed by Oregon voters — including a requirement that political advertisements disclose their donors — that have been uncontroversial for most of the state’s history.

Guest Writer

Guest writer Sal Peralta is a project manager for Oregon Lithoprint and secretary of Oregon’s Independent Party. He lives in McMinnville with his wife, Tanya, daughter Bella, and two dogs. When he is not working or thinking about public policy, he can usually be found playing the violin or enjoying time with family and friends.

Oregon is one of only six states that does not place any limits on campaign contributions or expenditures for state and local races. Recently, state agencies and the Legislature have adopted extreme interpretations of the Oregon Constitution as the basis for not passing statewide legislation to give voters more information about the major financial donors to political candidates.

Not surprising, a 2015 study by the Pulitzer-winning Center for Public Integrity gives Oregon “F’s” in Public Access to Information and Political Financing, rating the state 34th and 49th, respectively, Oregon just barely beating Mississippi in financing.

If our system is rigged to give wealthy people and organizations larger influence in our elections, it is also rigged to protect a two-party system that often fails to reflect the popular choices of voters. But our system of elections is not written in stone. Most of it is not even written in the Oregon Constitution. Under the current system, local governments have options in how they will elect their representatives.

Which brings us to Benton County Measure 2-100. This measure, which passed by a two-to-one margin, introduces a “ranked choice voting” system that will allow voters to rank their preferences for county offices, instead of just picking one candidate. Under the new Benton County system, if there are more than two names on the ballot, voters will get to rank their top two candidates. If a voter’s favorite candidate does not win, the second choice will automatically be counted. The idea was the brainchild of Pacific Green Party activist Blair Bobier and backed by most of the third parties in Oregon, because ranked choice systems around the country have offered some opportunity for them to succeed in electing candidates to office.

As Kristin Eberhard of the Sightline Institute noted in a recent speech to City Club of Portland, ranked choice voting systems empower third parties by eliminating the “spoiler objection” that many voters have to choose a third party candidate, while also ensuring the preferred candidate of most voters wins in November.

These county-level changes are microcosms of a larger shift happening in America. Many of the forces that propelled Donald Trump into the White House — anger at the failures of our political system and a belief that the system is rigged against ordinary people — are also driving local movements demanding greater transparency in our elections, especially with regard to who is paying for them and whether they produce outcomes supported by the majority of voters. Many Americans want to “unrig” our election system by weakening the stranglehold Democrats and Republicans (and their big donors) have over our political process.

At a minimum, these kinds of pressures, along with third parties like the Independent Party of Oregon, should start to make the political establishment more responsive to ordinary citizens.

As the cowboy proverb goes, “If you want to eat steak, you can’t hang around the table begging for scraps. Sometimes you’ve got to go to the slaughterhouse and kick the door down.”

One factor seems clear from this latest election: Americans are getting tired of waiting for the two-party system to produce better results. Look for bigger doors to fall, if they don’t get the message soon.


Don Dix

Sal -- You are correct in what you say about the system being rigged for the wealthy and large organizations.

However, for nearly 30 years, Oregon has been nothing but a one party state -- unfortunately!

Sal Peralta

Don - What we have are two one party states, with each party generally catering more than it should, to the worst elements of their core constituencies. Both parties are terrible when they gain too much power and partisan voters are becoming too tribal. The biggest problem we currently face as a country is that we have become a house divided against itself.