By editorial board • 

Mac’s on right track on campaign finance front

Setting public policy through free, fair and open elections is the cornerstone of democracy. The intent is to allow the public to choose its own representatives, shape the policies they pursue and recall or replace them if they fall short.

But increasingly, that cornerstone is being buried under an avalanche of special interest funding, cynical gerrymandering, partisan voter suppression and insidious digital manipulation, the latter fostered in part by foreign powers. And we are allowing arcane rules to cloak the process in anonymity and ambiguity, serving to disguise the forces actually intent on gaming the system.

Granting corporations the same rights as ordinary citizens, utterly unchecked, is one of the key elements in the increasing corruption of our electoral system. But given recent court rulings, fixing that will take amendment of our state and federal constitutions.

One thing we can do at every level is demand a much greater degree of campaign finance disclosure and accountability. McMinnville now seems poised to move that direction.

The impetus was a November campaign in which well-heeled special interests poured $160,000 into securing a mere 4,000 votes.

Do the math. That works out to a breathtaking $40 per vote.

Intervening under the auspices of the Stop the Senior Tax Committee, the care home industry spent mostly out-of-state money into polling, calling, mailing, letterwriting and lawn signs, campaign consulting and management, and radio, television, online and newspaper advertising. The industry mounted the kind of laser-like message discipline normally reserved for presidential, congressional and gubernatorial campaigns or highly controversial statewide initiative efforts.

City council candidates typically settle for paying a token filing fee, knocking on a few doors and perhaps running a thumbnail bio in the voters’ pamphlet.

That makes the one-sided November onslaught utterly unprecedented at the city level. But given its success, it could well prove a harbinger of things to come.

Some might view city pursuit of more stringent and effective campaign finance accountability as sour-grapes retribution for the lopsided electoral setback. But we view it as a reasonable, logical and timely attempt to address a very real issue this election brought to glaring light.

Moving to fine ordinary citizens for unwarranted 911 calls — instead of limiting that threat to trained, certified medical personnel employed by local care centers, which the election thwarted — smacks of retribution. Moving to address a lack of campaign finance transparency — one that could well resurface in local balloting within a matter of months — does not.

The measure under consideration is modeled after those adopted recently by the city of Portland and Multnomah County.

Those measures included provisions to limit the volume as well as enhance the transparency, triggering court challenges. However, McMinnville has no intention of making that mistake.

The local measure remains in the talking stages at the moment. We’re hoping it will soon be codified into draft form and submitted for public review. There is no such thing as too much accountability and transparency when it comes to our election process.


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