Advocates are pressing a crop of political candidates to abide by local campaign finance limits, which were passed by voters last year but quickly faced legal challenges.
On Thursday, members of Honest Elections, a local group pushing for campaign finance reform, filed a complaint with the Portland City Auditor. The filings accuse three candidates for upcoming local elections — including Mayor Ted Wheeler — of violating the ballot measure approved overwhelmingly by voters last November, which capped individual donations at $500.
Those limits were struck down in June. A judge found they violated a two-decade-old decision by the Oregon Supreme Court, which ruled political contributions were a form of free speech.
The Oregon Supreme Court is currently considering whether to overturn the landmark ruling. Most reason whether or not Portland’s finance limits go into effect hinges on the outcome.
But not Honest Elections.
In Thursday’s complaint, advocates with the group argue the measure is in effect right now — and the mayor, who they say has taken 11 contributions of over $500, is in violation of it. So, they allege, is mayoral candidate Ozzie Gonzalez, who they say has taken four donations greater than $500, as well as city council candidate Jack Kerfoot, who has allegedly contributed $106,000 to his own campaign.
Portland attorney Jason Kafoury, a member of Honest Elections, said the campaign finance limits remain in effect as no lower court has intervened and issued an injunction against the measure.
“There's no hold process in place, meaning it's a live bill,” Kafoury said. “It's just the legality of it is being questioned at the high courts.”
Wheeler’s campaign said, in a statement, they were “committed to transparency and disclosure” and were “operating within the current law.”
Last month, Wheeler said he’d impose his own personal limits on campaign contributions, accepting checks from individuals of up to $5,000 and from organizations up to $10,000.
Open Elections filed a similar complaint with the Multnomah County Director of Elections Thursday against Lori Stegmann, a candidate for county commissioner, alleging she’s in violation of a similar ballot measure passed by Multnomah County voters in 2016. The fate of that measure similarly rests on the decision made by the Oregon Supreme Court.
Kafoury said the candidates have 10 days to respond to the complaints.