By now, the story should be familiar to most observers of Portland politics. In the few days before the May 16 Primary Election, State Senator Ginny Burdick filed expenditures of tens of thousands of dollars with the city elections office, giving her a last minute shove in front of incumbent Erik Sten in the spending game.
Because Sten funded his campaign with city money under the Voter-Owned Elections program, he was eligible to receive matching funds every time Burdick raised or spent money over the $150,000 that Sten got from the city.
The timing of her expenditures, though, left many politicos scratching their heads. Why boost spending by such a large amount when there was literally only hours left to use the funds? (In fact, Burdick spent more money during the last two days than in any other recent city campaign.
Did Burdick's campaign "game" cheat the system in order to prevent Sten from taking advantage of the matching funds, which take at least a day to process?
Some answers were expected when the campaigns' post-election contributions and expenditures (C&E) reports were filed late last week. But because of the complicated nature of accounting under traditionally run campaigns, the report leaves more questions than answers.
The one question that was definitively answered: Where did the last-minute money come from? On the day before the election, the Portland Business Alliance gave $10,000 to the campaign. On the day of the election, Burdick loaned the campaign $10,000, and Ed Grosswiler (her campaign manager/ex-husband) loaned $44,500.
If that seems like an oddly large amount for a campaign manager to loan a campaign—that's because it is.
"I've never loaned any money to a campaign before," Grosswiler said. "[But] it was a campaign plan that I put together, so I wanted to see it through."
It's the expenditures, though, not the contributions, that are most perplexing.
On the day of the election, the Burdick campaign paid $55,805 to Gard & Gerber, the public relations firm where Burdick is senior counsel. The payment was for "literature, brochures, and printing," "preparation and production of advertising," and "general operational expenses (website, office, phones)." About $14,111 of that was already recorded in previous reports as "accounts payable"—money due for services already rendered.
But the remainder of the money to Gard & Gerber—nearly $42,000—didn't show up on C&E reports before the election. If it had shown up previously, matching funds might have been made available to Sten before Election Day.
In regard to allegations that the campaign delayed reporting those expenses in order to keep the matching money out of Sten's hands, Grosswiler said they simply didn't get the bill from Gard & Gerber until just before the election.
"We paid the invoice when we got it," he said. "It was a matter of [Gard & Gerber] getting their invoices from vendors they used. That's when we put in the loans to cover the bill."
Grosswiler said he wasn't sure exactly what services the $42,000 covered (and the campaign's treasurer, Catherine Hart, didn't respond by press time), although he estimated that it spanned April and May. In addition to the accounts payable, tens of thousands of dollars were paid directly to Gard & Gerber throughout the campaign for postage and to buy media ads—the firm didn't take an agency commission on the ads, and postage is typically something done at cost.
Other Election Day expenditures included payments to campaign staffers and political consultant Laura Imeson, who pulled in $9,296.
In the end, Burdick outspent Sten by about $28,000. Last-day spending is a wide-open loophole for campaigns that aren't participating in public funding to use in order to get around the matching funds, according to City Elections Officer Susan Francois. But, she said, many of the problems will be remedied when the state rolls out its "real-time" reporting system for campaign funding.