Candidate Charlie Hales announced Thursday self-imposed limits on contributions he'll accept as he contends to be Portland's next mayor -- a decision he made without waiting for talks with his opponent, State Rep. Jefferson Smith, to be completed.
Hales and Smith advanced to a November run-off election after an expensive May primary. Several sources and an email trail show the two camps started discussing possible limits through a third party last week. Mitch Rofsky is an attorney and businessman who has been involved in several progressive causes. He served as one of two intermediaries.
"As of last night, we understood we were very close to an agreement," Rofsky said.
Rofsky says several topics were being discussed, including a limit on contributions, an overall limit on spending, and a plan to address independent expenditures in the race. But he says on Thursday morning, a message came from the Hales camp that Hales would be announcing his own voluntary plan.
"This is about action, not about talk," Hales said. "I'm going to do something, regardless of whether Jefferson does this or not."
Hales said he settled on a $600 ceiling for contributions, with no out-of-state contributions accepted, and no personal loans to his campaign. Hales said he will observe these rules starting Thursday. He acknowledged taking some larger donations since the primary.
At his campaign headquarters, Hales did not specify what portion of the proposed points were objectionable. A consultant working for Hales said the talks had not progressed to a solid agreement, contrary to what Rofsky said.
Jefferson Smith responded with some surprise to the announcement.
"It's politics. They can do what they want to do," Smith said.
Smith said he would still try to pursue an agreement with Hales on other kinds of spending.
"My focus is to try to come up with an agreement that makes sense," Smith said. "Something that will matter that doesn't just push all the energy into an independent expenditure effort."
Hales did not commit to an overall spending limit, or any mechanism to deal with what independent political action committees might spend.
Smith suggested a formula like the one candidates in a Massachusetts Senate race agreed to. Under its terms, when an independent expenditure is made, the candidate who benefits must donate 50 percent of the cost of the ad to charity.
The state website recording campaign donations lists Hales' cash on hand at $22,000 as of late May. Smith reported $20,000 on hand as of the end of last month. Those figures may not reflect their most recent contributions.