Danny Hellman
This week, all candidates running for local office must reveal their "Contribution and Expenditures" (C&E) reports. These public records document every penny gathered and spent by the candidates, and to a large extent, the C&E tells the most honest story of how each person is running his or her campaign. But even before city council member and mayoral hopeful Jim Francesconi has turned in his C&E, questions are already being raised about suspicious contributions and possible campaign law violations--which, if proven, could constitute a felony.

Firstly, a recent Willamette Week article reported on Francesconi's use of campaign office space donated by the downtown lobbying firm Ball Janik LLP. This firm regularly receives tens of thousands of dollars in contracts from city council--like an $80,000 annual contract to bring a major league baseball team to town. So far, Francesconi has not reported this in-kind donation of office space on his C&E (but in response to media coverage has declared that he will). If nothing else, this contribution and its subsequent omission from his C&E creates the distasteful appearance that local politics is an inbred process that happens only behind closed doors.

The second question is potentially far more serious. It involves a peculiar donation tied to a major downtown property developer. The contribution in question is particularly worrisome because it could sidestep the single, primary requirement for campaign contributions--transparency. All that is asked from campaigns is that they provide a window to see who is donating and, ultimately, who may be trying to buy influence at city hall.

The contribution in question revolves around Tom Moyer, a major downtown developer. With offices perched high above Broadway, Moyer is a major player who, among other properties, owns Fox Tower. On May 16, 2003, Moyer made a $500 contribution to Francesconi's campaign. At the time, Francesconi had not yet declared his intentions to run for mayor or paid the $60 fee to do so. Even so, he has been actively raising funds for almost a year.

What is strange about Moyer's contribution is that on the very same day, his executive assistant, Sonja Tune, made a $2,000 contribution. That contribution raises troubling questions. Tune is not what one would call a political big-spender. She lives in a modest, two-bedroom, 1300-square-foot home in Portland's far Southeast reaches. The real market value of her home is listed at $130,000, according to public records.

However, Tune's contribution put her in an elite class. At that point in Francesconi's fundraising, only two people had made larger contributions. Five others had given equal amounts, but those were all professional peers of Moyer--CEOs and big-money corporations like the LA-based company that owns Mall 205 and the Schnitzer Group.

Was Moyer's assistant Tune suddenly overcome by political passion for Francesconi? Where does a person of presumably modest means come up with such a significant sum of loose cash? Why would it be donated to the Francesconi campaign? Or did Moyer funnel money through Tune to downplay his name on this public report?

When contacted by the Mercury, Tune refused to comment and hung up the phone.

Contributions to presidential elections are capped at $2,000, but Oregon does not have similar limits. The main requirement is that a campaign reports the name and occupation of the donor. (Donations under $50 are exempt from this requirement--this means that candidate Tom Potter's campaign, which does not accept donations larger than $25, escapes from having to report the names or occupations of his supporters.)

One longtime campaign watcher called Oregon's reporting requirements a mere "fig leaf" and lamented that someone would try to sidestep the law. Nevertheless, in this case, the law in Oregon is crystal-clear: Funneling money to a campaign through someone else is a Class C felony. Moreover, receiving these funds is also a felony.

A spokesperson for Francesconi's office did not recognize Tune's name, even though she would have been one of Francesconi's top 10 contributors during his first year of fundraising. (The spokesperson immediately knew Moyer.) "Jim doesn't look at every contribution," explained the spokesperson.

When asked whether it should raise a "red flag" that Moyer gave a large contribution of $500, immediately followed by his executive assistant who donated quadruple that amount, the spokesperson said: "It would be presumptuous of Jim to question motives for giving."

But the question remains: What did Francesconi's campaign know about this contribution? And, if nothing, why not? Did they purposely turn a blind eye to a suspicious contribution, letting a possible violation slide by and possibly opening themselves up to a criminal investigation?

On Monday, C&E reports for all candidates will be available to the public at the City Auditor's Office, City Hall, 1221 SW 4th.