Mayor Ted Wheeler speaking at his re-election launch in 2019.
Mayor Ted Wheeler speaking at his re-election launch in 2019. BLAIR STENVICK

Mayor Ted Wheeler and other Portland political candidates were the target of a recent campaign finance complaint for accepting large donations. But the Portland City Auditor’s Office says it will drop the complaint, because it is based on local campaign finance policy that is currently being sorted out in the courts.

Last month, Portlander Ronald Buel filed complaints against Wheeler, mayoral candidate Ozzie Gonzalez, and Portland City Council candidate Jack Kerfoot, arguing that their willingness to accept individual campaign contributions above $500 went against a campaign finance ballot measure approved by Portland voters in 2018.

That measure, Measure 26-200, faced a legal challenge from business interest groups soon after it passed. Those groups, including the Portland Business Alliance and the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors, argued that the measure’s strict donation limits infringed on Oregonians’ right to freedom of speech and expression. The measure was found unconstitutional in a lower court, but currently sits before the Oregon Supreme Court. That court heard arguments about that measure and a nearly identical Multnomah County measure in November 2019, and is expected to issue a ruling sometime this year.

Jason Kafoury, one of the architects of both measures, recently told the Mercury that candidates are currently in a “legal limbo land” concerning the measure’s enforceability, but that Wheeler and other candidates were “taking a big risk by taking big money in this [2020] campaign.”

But the Portland City Auditor’s Office is choosing to drop the complaints against Wheeler, Gonzalez, and Kerfoot. As the Oregonian reported Tuesday, City Elections Officer Deborah Scroggin told the three candidates in a letter that “we will not be enforcing, investigating, or acting on complaints regarding provisions of the charter that are currently being litigated and have been held unconstitutional.”

This means that local candidates will be free to accept high-dollar donations during the 2020 elections cycle. Wheeler is using a self-imposed limit of $5,000 per individual donation, ten times as high as the limit approved by 87 percent of Portland voters in 2018.

Buel also filed a campaign finance complaint against Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann last year. According to the Oregonian, the county elections director also declined to follow-up on the claim.