The invite—sent Nov. 19 while Mayor-elect Hales was on a trip to Brazil—offers donors a chance to invest in a sure thing: the politician who will soon wield City Hall’s power.
Tickets start at $50 for an “evening reception to celebrate the end of the campaign and the upcoming inauguration.” Sponsorship levels include “bronze” for $250 and “platinum” for $2,500.
Hales says he wants to retire his campaign debt, including $71,000 from personal loans he made to his own war chest in the spring. So he has dropped his self-imposed $600 limit on campaign contributions now that he’s elected.
“I wasn’t planning for this [limit] to be a perpetual approach,” Hales says. “I pledged to do it for the general election campaign, and I did so. I don’t think there’s any way to raise money for a campaign that doesn’t leave you open to criticism.”
It’s not unusual for politicians to hit up donors after they win an election—or for special interests to pad an incoming official’s campaign account. Sam Adams, for example, raised $47,000 while mayor-elect in 2008.
First reported here, Hales’ post-mayoral-election event is unprecedented in the size of its request.
And Hales keeps finding ways to shimmy around his contributions cap. Hales in June had said such a limit was needed to reduce the influence of money in politics.
“Hales is putting on the tool belt to solve a problem for himself,” says Len Bergstein, a longtime Portland lobbyist. “The rationale that he’s using is fairly facile and self-serving. But that’s who Charlie is. You’re either comfortable with your politicians having 50 shades of gray, or you’re terribly offended by it.”
Hales crushed state Rep. Jefferson Smith (D-East Portland), 61 percent to 31 percent, in the Nov. 6 election. Hales raised $1.4 million, including for the primary in which he and Smith dispatched businesswoman Eileen Brady.
Hales imposed limits on donations he accepted because he said “Portlanders, they tell me they are concerned about the role of very large contributions from individuals and businesses and out-of-state money trying to influence our local elections.”
He broke these limits three weeks before the election. In an Oct. 15 letter to Smith (first reported by The Portland Mercury), Hales said he was changing his rules so public-employee unions could donate to his campaign at a rate of $50 per union member.
Hales then quickly accepted five contributions from labor unions—ranging from $2,300 to $20,000 apiece—to cover printing expenses and broadcast ads.
Hales says he doesn’t regret his self-imposed limits.
“I don’t know that other campaigns would copy our approach,” he says. “It makes fundraising a lot more work.”