After weeks of digging into city council candidate John Branam's campaign finance records, Auditor Gary Blackmer determined that the $20,000 Branam paid Campaign Manager Phil Busse did not violate public financing rules that prohibit paying someone a wage that exceeds "fair market value." But if Branam were to pay Busse another penny, it would be a violation of city code: Branam would be penalized at twice the amount of the payment.

Busse—the Mercury's former managing editor—had a contract with Branam to earn $25,000 for three months of work managing the campaign, or about $8,333 a month. By way of comparison, managers of the city's other publicly financed races are earning closer to $3,500 a month—less than half of Busse's compensation—and top political consultant Liz Kaufman earned $7,500 a month to manage the Measure 49 campaign. Branam has said that he's paying Busse more than most campaigns, thanks to his "expansive role," experience, and the long hours he'd be putting in.

In a Friday, April 18 memo, the auditor took issue with the "experience" argument, pointing out that Busse's resume "indicates writing, administrative, and creative experience, but very limited political campaign management experience." However, Busse was "directly involved in the creative work of several campaign-related media projects," like designing campaign ads, duties which "may be eligible for a higher rate of pay than a campaign manager," according to the auditor.

Taking all that together, the auditor determined that Busse's $25,000 contract "for three months' work exceeds an acceptable range because of the type of race and Mr. Busse's level of experience." But if he isn't paid any more than the $20,000 already received, his salary works out to $6,667 per month—"still very high," according to the auditor, but mitigated by the "direct creative work."

Branam responds: "I really appreciate the auditor's thoroughness, and obviously they're doing their job and doing it well," he says. "I've long believed that Phil was worth the pay. He's worked hard, and he's continuing to work hard and, we're going to continue to focus on the issues that matter to Portlanders."