Closing an Attractive Nuisance

Portland’s new campaign finance law is giving $145,000 in public funds to candidates who collect $5 each from one thousand city residents. The idea was to “get money out of politics.” So, how’s that working out?

So far, one candidate failed to qualify for the money because many of her signatures were questionably obtained. Another candidate got the money, but may have to pay it back in part because of the same signature gathering problems. This candidate also, among other apparent violations, paid her 16 year old daughter $12,500 over a three day period; some of which was supposedly for work done before the campaign even qualified for the money.

Such obvious violations of the law weren’t hard to foresee. The law created what is known as an attractive nuisance. Children are attracted to a neighbor’s unfenced swimming pool like candidates are attracted to a perceived easy pool of public money. In the candidates’ case, some will see it as an easy source of income for themselves, friends and family members.

We don’t hold children accountable if they are harmed in an unfenced pool; we hold the homeowner responsible. The city’s money pool doesn’t attract children, but adult candidates who can’t resist diving in.

In this case, we should hold the candidates responsible for harming taxpayers, but we should also hold city officials who hatched this scheme responsible for not foreseeing its inevitable abuse.

The city council approved the plan without a vote of the people, claiming that we shouldn’t get to vote on it until 2010, after we’ve had a chance to see how it works. Well, we’ve seen how it works, or doesn’t work, already.

The best solution going forward is not to fence-in the city money pool. This pool should be shut down and drained. It’s an attractive nuisance that is simply too enticing to continue.

Steve Buckstein is senior policy analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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