PORTLAND, Ore. — The political group behind a citywide media blitz, People for Portland, is pushing voters to contact their elected leaders and press them to act on the city’s most glaring issues like homelessness and gun violence.
So is it working?
To find out, KGW requested a breakdown of emails sent to city leaders in the two months prior to and two months after the People for Portland campaign launched in mid-August.
Records show city leaders have been swamped with emails.
City Commissioner Carmen Rubio received roughly 3,800 emails before the People for Portland campaign started running advertising. After the campaign launched, Rubio received more than 15,000 messages.
Portland Commissioner Mingus Mapps had similar feedback. His inbox jumped from roughly 3,000 emails to more than 19,000.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler received more than 20,000 emails, double the amount he received prior to the People for Portland campaign.
“No question that if you're on the receiving end of lots of emails, you're going to say, ‘Okay, that probably is an issue,'” said Len Bergstein, KGW political analyst.
Bergstein explained grassroots campaigns are nothing new in Oregon — a state with a long tradition of political activism.
The People for Portland campaign is different, Bergstein said, because of funding and strategy. Instead of attacking a particular candidate and ballot initiative, People for People is appealing to local voters to press their elected leaders to take action.
“To their credit, they have injected urgency into local government,” said Bergstein. “You can't hear a public official nowadays speak about this without saying we have to come up with an urgent solution.”
This week, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler participated in a People for Portland town hall meeting.
“I support this effort of putting pressure on elected officials,” said Wheeler during the Zoom meeting.
The People for Portland campaign also stands out because of its funding source or so-called dark money. It is not clear who is paying for the campaign, which is legal under campaign finance rules because People for Portland is set up as a political nonprofit.
A quarterly report filed with the Portland city auditor showed People for Portland has spent more than $560,000 on lobbying efforts through September.
“People for Portland is legally organized, like many other issue advocacy groups, including Planned Parenthood and Basic Rights Oregon, for the purpose of amplifying the voices of others,” said People for Portland in a statement. “Just as donors to those other 501c4 organizations are anonymous, so are the donors to People for Portland.”
Bergstein worries the lack of transparency erodes some of the integrity of the process.
“I think the balance weighs in favor of public disclosure,” said Bergstein. “If they're going to hold public officials accountable, the groups that want to make the change should be held accountable also.”
Local leaders say they’re already working to try and solve the problems raised by the People for Portland campaign, like police reform, city-wide clean-up and homeless encampments.
Here’s how Portland city leaders responded to the People for Portland campaign:
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler:
“Mayor Wheeler is working hard to deliver impactful results to all Portlanders. This week, we’re announcing continued investment proposals in our Fall Budget Monitoring Process that will have a direct impact on Houselessness, Livability, Public Safety, and Economic Recovery. We typically do not address outside groups or rate their effectiveness.”
Commissioner Mingus Mapps:
“I haven’t met with People for Portland, but I get why Portlanders are angry. Portlanders are frustrated about vandalism, violence, the number of tents on sidewalks, the state of downtown, and the general conditions of our city. People for Portland is a symptom of the frustration, not the cause. This group seems intent on informing decision-makers that the majority of Portlanders want an immediate course correction.”
Commissioner Carmen Rubio:
“I agree with Portlanders who share these goals, and feel we need to be doing more faster. That’s exactly why I ran for city council to begin with. It’s why I heard community concerns about Shelter to Housing, amended it responsively, and passed it, so that we could set up more shelters with wrap-around services more quickly. That’s why I voted to fully fund Portland Street Response in May and why I fervently support its faster expansion. And I support body cameras, coupled with the robust accountability measures that make camera footage an effective tool toward transparency. We need that accountability and transparency so we can invest with confidence in a community safety system that respects all Portlanders and keeps them safe.
While I have one vote on Portland’s city council, we can only be effective with the help of all Portlanders. Together we can make these positive, necessary changes quickly. I look forward to working with our entire community to make Portland a city that reflects our shared priorities and values.”
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty:
“I’ve lived in Portland for over 30 years. I love our City and we are dealing with a lot of challenges as we recover from an ongoing pandemic, economic fallout, heat waves, a racial justice uprising, and a surge in gun violence. I share the concerns I’m hearing from our community – people want to feel safe, they want a compassionate response to the houseless crisis, and they want to see an expanded community safety system that includes Portland Street Response.
I’ve tried to expand Portland Street Response as fast as reasonably possible and it’s now looking like Council will support a citywide expansion this spring, freeing up more resources for our police bureau. I brought the community together to support a new system of police oversight that voters supported by 82%. Our new oversight board will bring further accountability and transparency to PPB, which will improve the communities trust in the bureau and lead to better safety outcomes. Despite not overseeing the Joint Office of Homeless Services, I worked with Mayor Wheeler at the onset of COVID-19 to add 100 new shelter options with the creation of the C3PO villages. I have consistently advocated for us to provide more humane options for those suffering on our streets right now.
I feel the frustration and fears of so many Portlanders right now because I am a part of our community and I see what they see. I want Portlanders to know these are the priority issues I’ve been addressing and I’m committed to continuing this work every single day.”
Commissioner Dan Ryan:
“Commissioner Ryan is not surprised by the People for Portland campaign overall. Their agenda calls for work that Commissioner Ryan and Portland City Council are already doing, including Commissioner Ryan’s Safe Rest Village initiative to address houselessness, adequately staffing the Portland Police Bureau, and requiring Body-Worn Cameras. Commissioner Ryan is working with urgency to address these issues.”