Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith is potentially violating the county's new campaign-financing limits passed by voters in November.
In recent weeks, Smith has disclosed at least five donations larger than $500—the legal limit set by voters last November for Multnomah County races.
Under the campaign-finance initiative, which went into effect Sept. 1, she could face a civil penalty of as much as $210,000 for accepting those donations, if she were running in a county race.
But her situation is complicated.
Smith is serving her second term and, like other Multnomah County commissioners, prohibited from running for a third term. Yet the political action committee through which she raises money is still registered as related to her county post.
Smith announced last month she intends to run for the Portland City Council seat currently held by Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who is retiring.
But under the terms of the county charter, she has to wait until January to officially filed to run in a city race or she must resign her county post.
"I guess she can keep that [county] account open, but it is now governed by our measure," writes elections lawyer Dan Meek, in an email obtained by WW. Meek wrote the county ballot initiative to limit campaign contributions.
"She could create a committee for running for PDX City Council, but then under the Multnomah County Charter she would have to resign her current office (if she forms that committee sooner than January 1, 2018)," Meek says in the email.
Smith's campaign disputes Meek's conclusions.
"Like other commissioners before her, Commissioner Smith has declared her intent to run for Council next year—but not formally filed for that office," says campaign spokesman Jake Weigler. "She is dutifully publicly reporting all of her campaign finance activities, and is not subject to the county's campaign finance limits as they are defined as applying to elections for offices for Multnomah County."
One other saving grace for the Smith campaign: the new Multnomah County campaign finance limits face a legal challenge in court. And the judge has yet to rule in the case.
The county website advises candidates to seek their own legal advice on fundraising: "Given the uncertainty due to the pending Court case, candidates for Multnomah County office are advised to seek private counsel to discuss individual needs."
There are some clear indications Smith's campaign for city council has begun: she has a Facebook page up, and, of course, she's fundraising. And she's hired a campaign consultant: Weigler, at Hilltop Public Solutions.
It's not clear whether those steps violate the county charter's prohibition on running for another office while serving as county commissioner.
Smith has raised $52,595 so far this year, and has $26,551.53 on hand.
Update, 5 pm:
Seth Woolley, secretary of the Pacific Green Party of Oregon, notes that the county's campaign-finance initiative, passed last year, also forbids campaign contributions from corporate entities and most PACs.
That means at least another three donations are questionable, and it raises the potential penalties to a maximum of $280,000 for Smith.
(Donors could face penalties as well.)
Woolley believes the donations indicate Smith is engaged in
campaigning and should be forced out of her county position.
"I believe she should be automatically resigned by filing the
transactions," he says.