Faced with strict campaign funding limits and declining donations, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler will be relying on his own money to fund his re-election effort.
The mayor loaned $ 150,000 to his campaign. Without that money, his account would have about $ 19,000, according to the latest campaign fundraising records.
An incumbent mayor pouring his own money into his campaign just two weeks before the ballots came out would likely raise eyebrows during any election cycle. But with Portland’s campaign funding limits in effect, the donation sparked an uproar among critics from the mayor, who accused Wheeler of bypassing the will of his constituents.
Wheeler’s opponent Sarah Iannarone called a wealthy mayor’s loan an illegal overrun with a failed re-election bid.
“Wheeler’s loan to his own campaign is a blatant violation of the city’s charter and electoral laws which more than 87% of Portlanders voted to pass,” she said in a statement. “He’s trying to buy this election with his legacy.
The vast majority of voters approved hard limits for campaign funding in 2018, limiting individual donations to $ 500 and capping the amount a candidate could give themselves at $ 5,000.
Those boundaries were in legal limbo for much of the campaign amid legal challenges. But after Oregon Supreme Court ruled in favor of similar Multnomah County law this spring, the city’s auditor said it could start enforcing Portland’s rules. Since then, the mayor has been hit with a campaign number violations related to the new rules.
But it doesn’t look like the city’s auditor is going to give the mayor a hard time over this loan.
At the end of April, the municipal auditor’s office told candidates that while the recent court ruling meant the city would start penalizing people who violate campaign contribution limits, they would not enforce the portion of the measure. which limits the amount a candidate can fund their campaign.
This means that even if the mayor’s $ 150,000 donation to his campaign goes against the rules of the city charter, there will be no violation to come as the city believes part of the charter will not stand in court. The email sent to candidates in April said the auditor would not apply the rule until he was “cleared by a court order.”
Jason Kafoury, a Portland attorney who helped set the limits for Portland’s campaign finance, said he was arguing a case before Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Eric Bloch, which could serve as a ruling on justice, giving Portland’s campaign finance measure a final green light. The case is about the county’s campaign fundraising limits, but he said this would directly affect how Portland’s limits are enforced.
Kafoury said he believes that, despite legal challenges, the measure remains in place – and the Wheeler campaign is making a big bet that he will not one day be penalized.
“We believe it is in effect,” Kafoury said. “The mayor has arguments as to why it is unconstitutional, but no court has ruled it unconstitutional.”
This is a murky legal area that the mayor’s own campaign aides had questions about. They consulted their attorney with Markowitz Herbold PC, asking if Wheeler could contribute more to the campaign than the $ 5,000 limit imposed by the charter. In an emailed response, the lawyer said yes, citing a US Supreme Court precedent that the spending limits on personal funds were unconstitutional and noting that the city auditor would not enforce the code.
In a statement, Wheeler’s campaign manager Danny O’Halloran defended the mayor’s loan, saying self-funding was a way to save time and pay taxes. The mayor refused to participate in the city’s state-funded election platform, in which donations of small dollars are matched with city money 6-1.
“Mayor Wheeler opted early in his campaign not to use taxpayer dollars to fund his re-election. He understood that this put him at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to fundraising, ”O’Halloran wrote. “As outgoing mayor, this decision regarding his campaign ensures that his time is spent meeting the needs of the city and continuing to work each day putting the interests of Portlanders first.”
Iannarone’s campaign took a different approach. Less than a day after the loan appeared in the state’s campaign fundraising database, the Iannraone campaign sent a fundraising email asking voters to donate today. hui and to “stand up against corruption”.
Iannarone, who participated in the city’s public campaign finance system, overtook the mayor this year with a gain of $ 617,032. She spent $ 513,913, according to state records. The mayor collected $ 449,277 – including the donation to himself – and spent $ 319,514.