Thursday, April 24, 2008

How John Branam Lost My Support

John Branam and the city he hopes to help lead as one of the four City Commissioners
After a few weeks of pondering my thoughts on a local campaign, I've decided to drop my support for John Branam in his pursuit of one of the Portland City Council seats. As much as I like his resume, life experience, and views, I'm a big campaign finance reform person (having researched the issue to write my final paper on it for the Washinton Seminar program in 2000) and for weeks have been disturbed by John Branam's spending of the public financing he had received for the City Council race.

Portland passed a campaign financing plan which allows anyone to run for local elections (Mayor or City Council) if they can get 1,000 signatures with each person donating $5 each. Once qualified, as verified by a city auditor, they receive approximately $150,000 for a city council race or $200,000 for the mayor's race. In the mayor's race, Commissioner Sam Adams opted out of it, viewing it as a conflict of interest since he was one of the main advocates for passing such a plan. That means he has to raise money from supporters to fund his campaign. That takes a lot of time away from campaigning, plus the pain of having to ask for money all the time. But it's better than his opponent, Sho Dozono, who qualified for campaign financing but recently lost it due to his not reporting that he had been the recipient of a $27,000 poll, which counts as an "in-kind contribution." Now Dozono has to fundraise from his supporters.

But the city council races include several candidates who qualify for financing. John Branam is one of them. However, one of the first things he did when he received the money is to pay his campaign manager $25,000 for TWO MONTHS WORK! Can you say "boondoggle"? I was deeply offended by that. The way I see it, no one should get rich working on a campaign. Campaign staff should get a reasonable wage, but $25,000 for two months work, especially on a low-level campaign in a large field of candidates is beyond reasonable. Not even the campaign manager of the Sam Adams campaign gets paid that much! The whole thing smacks of political back-scratching. I expected better of John Branam, but honestly, I based my support on what he wrote on his website (

What else has he done with his money once the check cleared the bank? Well, he bought specially-made fortune cookies with a slip inside that says something like "you'll have a great city commissioner in your future" with his website address. Besides being cheesy, can you say "wasteful spending"? Spending public finance money on gimmicks is offensive to anyone who cares about the way we finance elections. He's also paid for print ads in the alternative weekly newspaper "Willamette Weekly" (the only candidate to have such ads) and bought campaign buttons (much larger than the ones for Sam Adams, which I had helped press together). Nothing wrong with print ads and campaign buttons, for that's traditional campaign fare. But I like what "Willamette Weekly" said about John Branam's spending habits: he's "spending like a teenage clotheshorse with daddy's credit card." In fact, he has already spent $80,000, more than twice the amount each of his four opponents have.

Do we want that in a City Commissioner? I sure as hell don't.

Perhaps my distaste is due to personal reasons. He's younger than me, and while he admitted at a candidates forum to having over $100,000 in Law School loan debt, he still managed to buy a home and get a nice job with the Portland Public Schools as an executive. Here I am in a city full of nothing but low wage jobs, trying to find a living wage career in my field of interest (anything international, city/state/metro government, or university). There seems to be some backscratching going on. I'm curious to know how much of the campaign finance money pays for salaries of his staff. Had he paid a modest amount to his campaign manager, I suppose I'd still be a supporter, but in the interest of public integrity, this pay-off strikes as a major ethical lapse. And if a candidate commits an ethical lapse in a campaign, will he have the strong sense of integrity to refuse money from lobbyists and special interests when he's a commissioner? Or will he ensure that his friends get plum salaried jobs, while this city continues to slug along in low wages?

In a crowded field of plenty of good candidates, I've decided that in spite of John Branam's impressive life history and views (I especially like his Peace Corps service in South Africa and his admiration of Nelson Mandela), I cannot in good conscience support his campaign to be Sam Adams' replacement as City Commissioner, no matter how good of a buddy he is to the candidate I wholeheartedly endorse, support, and volunteer for: Sam Adams. Ethical campaign spending is just too important an issue for me to ignore in this race.

So, in his stead, I am looking into supporting Jeff Bissonnette for City Commissioner. From what little I know of him, he claims to have fought with Enron over power issues, so that's a huge inticement for me to support his candidacy. Anyone who saw through Enron's energy manipulation scheme is exactly the kind of person I want on city council. But, I'm not ready to endorse any candidate for city council until I further investigate their views, plans, and meet them in person (I did meet John Branam once and then saw him at the Retrofits concert flirting with all kinds of women, and got the impression that he's a bit too slick and shallow for my tastes).

Branam is a sharp guy, though, and I still believe that he has a future in politics. I might even vote for him at a future date and could even see him running for Congress (I'd prefer him over my current congressman, David Wu, who had supposedly date-raped a lady when he was in college), but for election to Portland City Council, I cannot overlook the way he has spent the public money allocated to his campaign. If he financed his campaign through fundraising, he can pay his campaign manager however much he wants...but when it comes to public finance, accountability matters...especially to a person who has desired a living wage job for awhile now. It gives me the impression that the only way to a better paying job in this city is through your buddies who can hook you up, regardless of your resume, experience, and knowledge.


Scotland Forbes said...

This seems to imply that you went with Bissionette, when I know you're a fan of Lewis. I'm confused. I also think you're passing up Fritz without a comment. Shame, nick, shame. It's crunch time and I need to make a decision now. Too bad.

Sansego said...

Hey Scot,

Check out the date on the post. I posted this one in April and I leaned towards Bissonette afterwards until I received a cool flyer from Lewis the first week in May. After meeting him on May 13th, I decided to support Lewis.

Fritz is a joke. Now that there's a run-off, I'm sure I'll comment on her at some point.

Thanks for posting!