Hales: We talked. This is action.
  • Hales: "We talked. This is action."
Mayoral candidate Charlie Hales, in what his campaign billed as a "game-changing" announcement, promised today to limit campaign contributions in his November runoff race against Jefferson Smith to no more than $600 per donor, while also refusing out-of-state donations and vowing not to do any self-funding either.

"I've thought a lot about how we can run a campaign that fits Portland's values and gets beyond the cycle of fundraising and soundbites," he said at a news conference at his campaign headquarters.

It really is a "big deal," as Hales put it—especially after Hales, Smith, and especially businesswoman Eileen Brady ran the most expensive primary campaign in the city's history.

But while Hales was first to announce such a move definitively, he was clearly taking a cue from Smith, who's been asking for a similar-style pledge on campaign spending since before he and Hales emerged as winners in the primary election. Smith mentioned it during the Mercury's endorsement interview with the mayoral candidates and again during a KGW debate, and again after the primary, when he proposed a $250,000 limit.

The two campaigns even had staffers and volunteers in talks, hoping to reach a joint deal, but Hales this morning wouldn't say how close his pledge came to the substance of those talks—"I wasn't engaged in them myself," and dismissed Smith's entreaties.

"We talked," Hales said. "This is action."

Update 12:20 PM: Smith tells me he's "glad Charlie agrees—now—that we should at least care about what's happening in campaign finance." He also says he held off from making his own "unilateral" announcement because he thought the talks between the campaigns—which he still hopes will continue—would bear fruit.

"I hope we'll do something real, and something stronger, and hopefully, together," Smith says.

What was being discussed? Some things that Hales didn't announce. Smith says the limit was $500 per donor, with a limit on overall spending, too. But more importantly, there would have been an agreement to eschew independent expenditure campaigns. So-called IEs are rare in Oregon politics, since anyone can legally give any candidate as big a check as they'd like, but when limits are in play...?

"If you limit individual contributions and don't do anything about independent expenditures, it's obvious what's going to happen. The people who want to give you $30,000 are just going to give to the IE... That's not better for democracy, it's worse." ///

Hales also took another poke at Smith, who collected big money from out of state donors thanks to friends but also through fundraising appearances, by suggesting that limiting those kinds of donations would make a difference this time.

He said there was "lots of out of state funding," and that it "was a factor in the primary."

Of course, $600 is hardly a small amount of cash. That high-end limit might not allow for TV ad carpet-bombing, but it will offer wealthy Portlanders (Hales cleaned up in downtown, the inner Eastside, and the West Hills) more of a chance to shape the campaign than blue-collar voters who'd have to choose between a giant campaign gift and, say, giving their kids Christmas presents this year.

It's also way more than the limits that Tom Potter and Amanda Fritz adopted in their campaigns. Hales called it a just-right "Goldilocks" number. He thought $100 is "a little," and that $1,000 was "a lot." He said $600 was "in between."

He also acknowledged receiving big checks since the primary, but to pay off the campaign's bills after a late surge of spending. "We weren't salting it away."

"The primary," he said—with Brady raising and spending more than a million to fall out of the race, "was a cautionary tale."