In less than two weeks, City Commissioner Jim Francesconi will officially shatter the Portland record for political fundraising in a city campaign--and he will have done so with some key help from a very powerful friend: Ball Janik LLP.
For years, WW has learned, the law firm has donated space at its downtown office to Francesconi, an arrangement he has failed to disclose to state elections officials.
If it has not been disclosed, "it should be," Francesconi told WW. Indeed, under Oregon's campaign-disclosure law, the loan of office space for a political campaign "is an in-kind contribution and should be reported," says state elections director John Lindback.
A review of Francesconi's campaign-finance records shows no such disclosures. And, as of two weeks ago, Francesconi had failed to document the office space in his current reports, according to rivals James Posey and Phil Busse, who reviewed Francesconi's books (see sidebar "The Dollar Derby" in last week's cover story, "The $25 Candidate").
For some political observers, it's not Francesconi's failure to disclose the office space at 101 SW Main St. that is troubling, but the fact that he'd agree to such an arrangement.
Ball Janik holds several contracts with the city doing work that might otherwise be done by the City Attorney's office (see "This Gun for Hire," WW, April 9, 2003). It is also the firm that, thanks to its clout with City Hall, is used as a "fixer" by some of the wealthiest and most powerful interests in Portland when they need to deal with the city. OHSU, for example, has hired the firm to extract new concessions from the city to underwrite its aerial tram.
Ed Grosswiler, spokesman for the Francesconi campaign, downplays the commissioner's relationship with Ball Janik. "They always have an empty office," says Grosswiler. "So when he knows he's coming over, he calls [ahead] and they put him in the office that's available."
But Grosswiler does confess the arrangement comes in handy. Elected city officials are allowed to raise money from their public office spaces, but it is frowned upon. Francesconi "can't drive across town to his house or his campaign headquarters any time he wants to spend three or four hours on the phone," says Grosswiler. "It's just not very efficient."
But the arrangement looks a little too cozy to the League of Women Voters. "I think this creates concern with the public--when a candidate for mayor has this type of arrangement with a firm that represents entities with a financial relationship with the city," says the league's Debbie Aiona.
Grosswiler says the failure to report the gift of office space is an "oversight." He says Francesconi spends an average of 10 hours a week on the telephone dialing for dollars, with at least half that time at the Ball Janik office. Despite the league's concerns, Grosswiler says the relationship does not affect Francesconi's decisions. "He listens to a broad spectrum of people and makes his decisions on the basis of what's best," he says.
But the league's Aiona says the Ball Janik news is just one more way that city commissioners' constant panhandling is offensive to the public. Her organization says the current system of fundraising at City Hall needs reform--specifically, by setting up a "clean elections" system in which candidates receive limited public funding if they abide by spending limits (see last week's "The $25 Candidate"). The proposal is scheduled for a City Council hearing on April 7.