Oregon elections officials today ruled on a vexing question in local politics: They say Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith is in fact a candidate for Portland City Council, despite her claims otherwise.
Elections officials say that means Smith broke state law by declaring in September she planned to run for City Council and then failing to change the registration of her campaign finance committee to reflect that candidacy.
The Oregon Secretary of State's office will fine Smith $250. But the ruling is also significant because it says Smith is indeed a candidate to replace City Commissioner Dan Saltzman—and that could mean she's violating the county's rules against holding office while seeking another elected position.
As WW reported last month, the county charter doesn't allow Smith to run for another office until Jan. 1, the final year of her term as county commissioner. Smith announced in September that she plans to run for retiring City Commissioner Dan Saltzman's seat next year. She hasn't officially filed to run, but is fundraising and has a website up.
In her response to the state inquiry, Smith argued that she wanted her constituents to know she was thinking about a City Council run, but hadn't made up her mind.
"When Dan Saltzman announced his intention to not seek reelection, I felt it was important to let my constituents know that it was my intent to look at running for that seat," Smith told elections officials. "Since then, I have taken steps to prepare for a possible campaign, as well as retaining assistance to prepare for my 5th annual MLK luncheon in January. But I will not make my final decision on whether to file and run for Portland City Council until 2018."
Green Party of Oregon Secretary Seth Woolley filed elections complaint with the state and county in November. He's also challenging whether Smith broke county campaign finance limits with her fundraising.
The county complaints have yet to be resolved.
"I'm pleased with the outcome of the state investigation," Woolley tells WW. "Now the question is: What is the county going to do about it?"
UPDATE, 4:03 pm: Jef Green, treasurer for the Committee to Elect Loretta Smith, says the violation was the committee's fault.
"As is common practice by many elected officials, we believed that we could wait to update the purpose of Loretta Smith's PAC until she had made a final decision to run and formally filed for the office," he says. "To this end, we provided this advice to our client and take full responsibility for this error."