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As a big election year looms, Bike Walk Vote PAC is looking for new leaders

Posted by on December 24th, 2015 at 11:54 am

Bike Walk Vote candidate party-11
Future Portland Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick speaks at a 2012 event for Bike Walk Vote-endorsed candidates.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

In 2016, Portlanders will vote on a local gas tax, a new mayor, a transportation commissioner, a regional council and a governor.

If you make between approximately $7,000 and $100,000 a year, you’ve probably got $50 in free money from the State of Oregon to spend in 2015 on a candidate or political committee of your choice.

That’s the fact of Oregon’s unusual but underused political tax credit system.

But for people who believe that Oregon should be reducing its dependence on cars, the odd complication is that no political committee active on those issues seems to be asking for that money — even as Portland heads into an election year that will shape transportation issues for years to come.

A proposed local gas tax that could dramatically increase Portland’s funding for biking and walking improvements is also supposed to be on the ballot five months from last week, but no one seems to be organizing on its behalf yet.

In that May primary and in the November general elections, voters will elect a majority of the Portland city council (including a new mayor) and the governor of the state, who offers the only direct channel of power between voters and the state’s two biggest transportation agencies: the Oregon Department of Transportation and TriMet. The mayor, in turn, will choose a new city transportation commissioner; candidate Ted Wheeler says he’d take that job himself. To our knowledge, his rival Jules Bailey hasn’t commented on this yet.

Meanwhile, all 60 state House seats are up for election, as are 15 of the 30 state Senate seats, headed into a 2017 legislative session that’s widely expected to include another push for a major new statewide transportation bill.

You may also have heard that there’s a national election coming up next year.

In summary: 2016 will matter, and it will keep mattering.

Endorsements matter as much or more than cash, bike-friendly politician says
N Tualatin Mtns open house-8
Metro Councilor Sam Chase, elected with Bike Walk Vote’s endorsement in 2012, speaks at an open house about possible mountain biking trails in December 2014.

Portland does have an existing political action committee dedicated to low-car transporation: Bike Walk Vote, founded in 2004. In the ten years since, it’s endorsed 29 local politicians, 23 of which have gone on to win.

Metro Councilor Sam Chase, who has been an advocate for the North Portland Greenway path since winning Bike Walk Vote’s endorsement in his first run for regional office in 2012, said in an interview Thursday that though getting a little campaign money from biking advocates is nice, Bike Walk Vote would still be “incredibly important” if it didn’t raise a cent.

“The endorsement, and the name, and being able to use that endorsement on the material, helps to provide a third-party source that this person has been evaluated and does not just talk about active transportation but does support that agenda,” Chase said. “The forces out there working on the other end are well-financed and working hard.”

Chase, who is running for reelection in 2016, said he couldn’t comment further about that opposition.

Metro’s council is currently the target of a moon-shot Bicycle Transportation Alliance campaign to get $15 million in regional funding for Safe Routes to School infrastructure and programming.

Bike Walk Vote is currently dormant, BWV board member Lisa Marie White said in an email Wednesday, and not active enough to solicit state-tax-credit-funded donations from people who support biking and walking.

I wrote back to ask whether she’d consider handing over the reins if she were contacted by someone who wanted to take on BWV in 2016.

“YES!!” she replied.

BTA plans to issue candidate questionnaire
Screenshot 2015-12-24 at 11.57.03 AM
A guide (zoomable PDF here) to the difference between 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 organizations’ political abilities.

Even if no one steps in to keep Bike Walk Vote active, Portlanders who care about active transportation will have some other allies.

As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance isn’t allowed to endorse candidates, host debates about “a narrow range of issues” or accept tax-credit-funded donations.

But it can do voter education and get-out-the-vote campaigns. Advocacy Director Gerik Kransky said in an email Wednesday that the BTA plans to do that with a “Bike the Vote” program in 2016 that will include a candidate questionnaire.

The BTA co-hosted a candidates’ forum in 2012, and could do so again in 2016.

BTA Executive Director Rob Sadowsky said last year that his organization was considering starting a political sister group that could endorse candidates. But he also said that the BTA had to weigh the costs and benefits of electing friendlier politicians against the costs and benefits of directly lobbying politicians the rest of the time.

Kransky, who came to the BTA from the environmental movement in 2010, said the BTA has sometimes relied on the Oregon League of Conservation Voters to track votes and endorse politicians in the state legislature. But he said Portland’s biking movement doesn’t currently have an “electoral game” of its own.

“We have great grassroots power, but not yet great organizing,” Kransky said of the local biking movement generally. “The ‘bike community’ has people power in spades and we at the BTA are pushing ourselves every day to get better at grassroots engagement.”

Vision Zero USA pulls back from focus on elections
Candlelight vigil for traffic victims-11.jpg
Chris Anderson of Vision Zero USA at a vigil last week for traffic violence victims.

There’s one other effort worth noting: Vision Zero USA, an advocacy group founded this year by a pair of Portland parents, Amy Subach and Chris Anderson. The couple said in May that they were planning to start a “Vision Zero PAC” to unseat politicians around the country who were “traffic violence apologists.” But they instead settled on forming a 501(c)4 organization called Vision Zero USA, which can endorse candidates but can’t make electoral issues its primary focus.

501(c)4 groups can’t accept Oregon’s tax-credit donations, said local political consultant Kari Chisolm of Mandate Media, who created the explanatory site OregonTaxCredit.com.

Subach explained in an October email to local advocacy group BikeLoudPDX that “when I looked into the laws and regulations and talked with lawyers, I was overwhelmed with the amount of time and effort it would take, especially for someone with no experience or legal training.”

“Chris and I are doing this on a strictly volunteer basis and have limited time and energy to put into it,” Subach said Wednesday. “501(c)4s are simpler all around.”

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • kiel johnson
    kiel johnson December 24, 2015 at 2:34 pm


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  • B. Carfree December 24, 2015 at 5:36 pm

    How dormant is Bike, walk vote? Can I give them my $50 and take the tax credit, or are they no longer a valid registered PAC?

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  • buildwithjoe December 25, 2015 at 6:47 am

    The SF Bike Colation gives every PAC member an equal vote on their endorsements. That’s what we need in Portland to create slate cards of candidates who are pro #visionzero, pro bike, pro pedestrian.

    BikeWalkVote PAC had a design that invalidated your opinion and mine. Only their elite 5 member board could vote on who was endorsed. It was a fatal flaw.

    Also, there’s a lot of conflicting information on the limits of a 501c4. Here’s info direct from the IRS website: “501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity. ”


    The IRS also talks about damage we might inflict on anti bike businesses like the Laurelhurst Theatre. “not inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.” I’d like to cause some financial injury to anyone or anything that puts car parking before street safety. That’s exactly the attack that the Laurelhurst unleashed on our bike community. We’re not gonna take it… no…

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    • eddie December 25, 2015 at 10:01 pm

      Sorry, how is Laurelhurst Theater anti bike? I love that place?

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      • Terry D-M December 26, 2015 at 8:58 am

        They were the organizing business against removing a lane of parking on 28th as part of the 20s “bikeway” being built this summer. I have not been there since…..there is for me always the Academy in Montavilla instead.

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      • soren December 28, 2015 at 12:24 pm

        I have also not spent a dime at Laurelhurst Theater since they helped kill the bike facility on 28th.

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        • Carl December 28, 2015 at 4:50 pm

          Laurelhurst gets an unfairly bad rap for that. The main business force was actually Bitar Brothers. They drummed up alarm, got their tenants freaked out, and killed the thing before that letter even started circulating. I’m happy to continue giving my money to the Laurelhurst. If proper outreach had been done, I truly believe they would’ve been supportive. http://multcoproptax.com/property.asp?PropertyID=P393079

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  • Mossby Pomegranate December 25, 2015 at 7:54 am

    Could I put the $50 towards a super bright blinky taillight?

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  • Andy December 28, 2015 at 7:32 am

    Good article Jonathan. This is the key to turning grassroots power into political influence. We need to stop whining and start organizing. The question is whether we are willing to make the effort.

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  • Evan Manvel December 29, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    It would be great to see Bike Walk Vote PAC active in 2016! I hope people step up.

    In the meantime, all readers should make sure to max their Political Tax Credit donation. As long as you’re making enough to pay at least $50 in Oregon income taxes (and not six figures), you can get the money back when filing.

    Choose a bike-friendly candidate and contribute to getting them elected!

    Getting the right people into office in the first place is much more powerful than trying to change the minds of people who disagree with you.

    Read more via the links in the article, or here:

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