Mayor Ted Wheeler and three other local political candidates are facing scrutiny for accepting hefty donations that clash with local campaign finance regulations passed by voters. On Thursday, a Portland resident who campaigned for the new policies filed official complaints against those four candidates, kicking off an investigation that could land the candidates in court.
In 2018, Portlanders voted by an overwhelming majority to approve Measure 26-200, a campaign finance reform initiative that, among other things, limited campaign donations from individuals to $500 each. It was similar to another measure passed by Multnomah County voters in 2016 (both were crafted by the organization Honest Elections Oregon).
These measures are currently being challenged in court by business groups Portland Business Alliance and Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors, on the grounds that contribution limits interfere with Oregon’s broad free speech protections. The Oregon Supreme Court heard arguments from both sides in November, and will likely issue a ruling in 2020. But no judge has actually placed a stay on the policies in the meantime, meaning that they’re technically enforceable, according to Honest Elections Oregon member Jason Kafoury.
"We're currently in legal limbo land,” Kafoury told the Mercury.
But several candidates running in 2020 elections are conducting their campaigns as if the measures don’t exist—in fact, Wheeler is collecting individual contributions as high as $5,000. So Portlander Ronald Buel filed complaints against Wheeler, mayoral candidate Ozzie Gonzalez, and Portland City Council candidate Jack Kerfoot with the Portland City Auditor’s office. He also filed a complaint against Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann with the Multnomah County Director of Elections.
Kafoury says that if the Supreme Court rules in Honest Elections Oregon’s favor, candidates like Wheeler could face major fines—potentially as high as $800,000.
"From our perspective, Wheeler is taking a big risk by taking big money in this campaign,” Kafoury said.
The four candidates have ten days to respond to Buel’s complaints, either by giving back the excessive donations or by filing appeals.
The Mercury has reached out to Wheeler’s campaign for comment, and will update this post if we hear back.
Update, December 20: Wheeler's campaign has responded with a statement: "Our campaign is committed to transparency and disclosure, and we are operating within the current law."