April 22nd, 2010 | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, City Hall

Jesse Cornett Spends Public Money to Pay Canvassers

Jesse Cornett via BikePortland.org

Jesse Cornett, the only challenger to Commissioner Dan Saltzman who got public campaign financing, recently spent some of his $150,000 in public money in a novel way.

According to Orestar, Cornett recently spent $25,000 on door-to-door canvassing with NW Democracy Resources. Cornett says the group is just about to start and that it will perform a variety of outreach activities.

By comparison, neither Amanda Fritz nor Charles Lewis spent public money on paid canvassers when they ran as publicly financed candidates in 2008.

"I think it's much better to use volunteers," says Lewis, who lost to Fritz.

"If you've got support in the community you shouldn't have to pay people to canvass for you," says Lewis, who's supporting Saltzman.

In an announcement Feb. 9 about his campaign, Cornett had this to say: "This is going to be a grassroots campaign. Voter-owned elections means I'll be talking to voters every day, not holed up in a campaign office dialing for dollars.”

Asked today how paid canvassers squared with his promise to run a grassroots campaign, Cornett said he also had volunteers talking to voters. He framed the decision to pay for canvassers (he said didn't know how many he would have, when asked this morning) as a choice not to buy TV ads, which is what Saltzman is doing with $27,000 of his private donations. "We're actually going out and talking to people," Cornett says, "instead of talking at them."

The City of Portland auditor's office says there's no rule against using public campaign money on paid canvassers. But Cornett was worried enough about WW's questions this morning that he made another novel move after we called him as part of our reporting: He called the Mercury, which recently endorsed his campaign, to try to make his case.

"The move is a little odd," the Merc reported, referring to the spending.

A final footnote: Orestar records show a $25,000 cash expenditure with NW Democracy Resources on April 22 and an "accountable payable" item for $32,079 on April 20, which is why the image below lists the aggregate at $57,079. Cornett said early he was unable to explain the discrepancy.
Jesse Cornett's campaign spending

Photo courtesy of BikePortland.org.
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