For several weeks last fall, complaints rolled in about the campaign to snatch city utilities from city hall.

Signature gatherers for the Portland Public Water District were spreading misinformation to win signatures, complainants told Secretary of State Kate Brown's office. The campaigners allegedly suggested Nestlé was close to a takeover of the Bull Run watershed (not happening) and trumpeted the support of environmental groups for their cause (blatantly false).

The allegations are serious. Knowingly spreading misinformation to attract signatures can earn you a felony charge. That won't happen in this case, though.

After looking into the complaints, the Secretary of State's Office notified the campaign yesterday it has no idea whether the allegations were true—it couldn't even figure out who the signature gatherers in question are. Here's part of a letter sent to the campaign:



That outcome was more-or-less expected. Whereas signature gatherers for statewide petitions have their names and photographs stored in a database, there's no such provision for local measures. Secretary of State's Office spokesman Tony Green had said previously that would make an investigation difficult—particularly as the campaign itself said it doesn't know who the alleged perps were.

Since the complaints were filed, the water district campaign has submitted enough signatures to make the May 20 ballot, prompting a brand new opposition campaign led by Mayor Charlie Hales. Expect to hear a lot about water for the next three months.