Nick Fish Pitches Portland Regulations on Political Consultants

Auditor Mary Hull Caballero also seeks to strengthen lobbying restrictions.

Should a political consultant be required to disclose his relationship with an elected official?

Portland Commissioner Nick Fish says yes.

And this week, Fish will introduce a city ordinance that for the first time would require political consultants who work with Portland politicians to register their activity with the city. It also asks elected officials to report their relationships with consultants and establishes penalties for rule breakers, including fines of $1,000.

Fish's proposal, which heads to the Portland City Council on April 13, grows out of Portland's saga with Uber. Amid 2014 negotiations with the ride-sharing app, a political consultant to Mayor Charlie Hales, Mark Wiener, also lobbied on behalf of Uber. Wiener's dual role came to light in reports from WW.

"Political consultants wield enormous influence and what we learned specifically from Uber was very instructive," Fish says. "When Uber set out to conquer America, they didn't hire a lobbyist. They hired President Obama's campaign manager."

New disclosure requirements would improve transparency, says Fish.

"Our goal is to provide some sunshine," he says.

The Portland rules address a gray area in state campaign finance rules. Oregon campaign finance rules require candidates disclose payments to campaign consultants. But in cases when a consultant offers service for "free," candidates have avoided disclosure. That's what happened when consultant Patricia McCaig advised former Gov. John Kitzhaber in his 2014 re-election, although state rules consider such service "in-kind" contributions that must be reported.

"In our proposal, the moment a consultant provides a service, whether it's compensated or not, they would be required to register," says Fish.

Fish says he would have liked to have gone even further by pushing a two-year ban on consultants lobbying their former clients. But city attorneys believe that might run afoul of Oregon's broad protections for free speech, he says.

'We think it's a significant step forward just to require the consultants register and that there's some sunshine on who their clients are," he says.

Meantime, Portland's elected auditor, Mary Hull Caballero, would like to beef up Portland's 2005 rules requiring lobbyists to register with the city.

Under a proposal that also heads to Portland City Council on April 13, more lobbyists would be required to disclose their contacts with city officials. Right now, only lobbyists that spend eight or more hours per quarter are required to register. The new rules would broaden the requirement so lobbyists that spend more than $1,000 also would need to register.

In addition, city bureau directors, elected officials and their at-will staff members would be prohibited from lobbying city officials for two years after they leave city hall. The goal is to close a revolving door that right now spins fairly smoothly. Under existing rules, top Portland employees are prohibited from lobbying City Hall for just one year after they leave city employment, and the ban applies only to issues that they were "personally and substantially" involved in while a city employee.

That narrow definition has been difficult to enforce, says Deborah Scroggin of the Portland Auditor's Office. As a result, a former aide to Mayor Sam Adams who addressed business issues was permitted to act as a City Hall lobbyist for the Portland Business Alliance shortly after Adams left office in 2012.

Caballero's proposal also increases penalties, from $500 to $3,000.

Scroggin says the goal is to "avoid even the appearance of impropriety."

Willamette Week

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.