Commissioner Beason Proposes Good Government Budget Package

Multnomah County as a government body has grown exponentially in the last decade, so it’s unsurprising that some of our processes require updating to keep up with modern best practices in how we govern and grow a robust democracy. 

A benefit to being an interim Commissioner (appointed after my predecessor Susheela Jayapal stepped down to run for Congress) is that I bring an outside, community-based perspective during my short time representing District 2. During this tenure that began last November, I have identified a few key areas where I am proposing action to set Multnomah County up for future success by investing in democracy, transparency, and accountability.

My good government package includes:

  • Directions for Developing a Small Donor Program for Multnomah County Elections
  • Support for Processing Public Records Requests
  • Improved access and processes in the Office of the Multnomah County Board Clerk 
  • Transparency and Guidance for Community Budget Advisory Committees (CBACs)

Developing a Small Donor Program

The United States campaign finance system is in disarray. While there have been ongoing concerns for many decades, the 2011 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United opened a Pandora’s box for unlimited dark money to pour into electoral races across the country. The State of Oregon and Multnomah County have not been immune to the impact. One need only turn on the TV or open their mailbox to see how independent Super PACs are able to use their financial resources to disproportionately target candidates of color.

While we can’t overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling, there are still tools that local governments can use to ensure there is a more equitable playing field for all candidates. Voters approved a ballot measure that went into effect in 2022 limiting the amount of money a candidate for the County Board and Chair could raise directly. However, this doesn’t allow candidates to keep up with the dark money expenditures that are becoming increasingly commonplace. More steps must be taken to allow candidates from all walks of life a chance to run competitive campaigns. Municipalities all across the country have seen success in implementing small donor programs to empower regular people to compete with those who are either independently wealthy or connected to the wealthy and big money interests.

I’m incredibly thankful to Chair Jessica Vega Pederson for including the development and implementation of a public financing small donor program for Multnomah County elections in her proposed budget. The crux of my good government package centers around building off that proposal by providing increased direction and benchmarks to keep us on target to deliver a small donor program (similar to what is currently utilized by the City of Portland) by the next major election cycle in 2026.

At a time when so many are so cynical about the influence of money in politics, these changes can help restore public trust by combating the eroding influence big money has on our democracy and allowing a more diverse pool of candidates the opportunity to run competitive campaigns. That’s why municipalities across the country have implemented small donor programs, and it's time for Multnomah County to catch up. 

Public Records Support

As Multnomah County has grown, so has public scrutiny. That means more people are paying closer attention to the workings of Multnomah County, leading to an increase in media inquiries and public records requests. Yet there currently is no dedicated person in charge of public records requests at the County. The ability to be responsive and timely with these requests is a critical component of public oversight. 

To ensure we are following Oregon Public Records law and promoting transparency and accountability in government, I am proposing a new public records manager position to plan, organize, and manage an improved records processing system. 

Board Clerk Assistance

I've heard my colleagues and members of the public express their hopes for more transparency when it comes to the rules and guidelines that regulate the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. 

In an effort to increase transparency and access to Multnomah County Board documents, I proposed increased funding for the Clerk’s office that will support revamping the County’s website to assist with easier digital access for the public, review long standing board meeting procedures, and offer recommendations for ways they can be improved. 

Transparency for Community Budget Advisory Committee

The Office of Community Involvement (OCI) supports a wide range of efforts to connect members of the public with the work of Multnomah County and the Board of County Commissioners.  One portion of that work involves assisting each county department with their community budget advisory committees, known as CBACs, with one per department. Those committees are made up of community members (with preference given to people living and/or working in Multnomah County boundaries) who serve for three year terms. They play an important role by learning about departmental programs and priorities, reviewing department submitted budgets, and submitting their thoughts and recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners once the Chair has submitted their proposed executive budget.

During the FY25 budget kickoff, the Board heard from members of the Central Community Budget Advisory Committee (Central CBAC) about ongoing concerns they have regarding meeting regularity, access to departmental staff and information, and timely submission of recommendations to the Board. I’m thankful that OCI is already in the process of addressing these concerns, and my proposal ensures that OCI will report back to the board by the end of September with a plan to address these concerns and increase transparency that will make our CBACs more effective.