A running dispute over whether Portland's contribution limits apply to this year's elections resulted in one candidate for mayor holding a brief press conference in City Hall this week, saying an overzealous effort to police campaign spending was discouraging people of color from seeking office.
Ozzie González, who is challenging Mayor Ted Wheeler in the May primary, held the press conference on Jan. 6 to dispute the elections complaint filed Dec. 19 by Ronald Buel of Honest Elections, a local advocacy organization. Buel argued that González, Wheeler and Jack Kerfoot, who is running for Portland City Commissioner, had violated the campaign-donation limits passed by voters in 2018.
González's official response to the city auditor? The complaint is "defective and void on its face." Kerfoot responded in a similar manner, saying it's "groundless." (As of now, the city auditor does not have a response from Wheeler.)
González, 41, is the director of sustainability and diversity for Howard S. Wright, a construction company, and serves on the board of TriMet.
González said the campaign-spending limits "are not currently in force and were not in force at the time of the filing, nor were they in force at the time of the cited contributions," and that these portions of the code "have been ruled unconstitutional by the Multnomah County Circuit Court." The latter was echoed in the auditor's office initial letter to the candidates—which seemed to acknowledge that until the limits are upheld in court, they can't be enforced.
All three complaints allege a violation of Portland Charter Chapter 3, Article 3, and Portland City Code Chapter 2.10. This includes, among other things, that a candidate cannot receive an individual donation of more than $500.
The complaint states González received four contributions in apparent violation, the highest being $10,000 and totaling $14,000. The other two documents claim Kerfoot accepted four donations in violation and Wheeler 15 donations above the limit.
Dan Meek, an advocate for the spending caps, says it's not clear whether the measure passed by voters will pass constitutional muster—so candidates ought to voluntarily abide by it.
"It's fully expected, it's a long fight and we will continue to attempt to achieve what the voters of Multnomah County and Portland have wanted," Meek said. "We will get limits."
González was outraged enough by the complaint to hold a press conference about it.
He said he does not believe in buying his way into victory and mentioned that candidates of color face many barriers that their white counterparts do not.
"Like many of you, I am deeply concerned about the role big money plays in politics," González said. "Portland deserves an inclusive democratic process and the complaint filed against me is working against inclusion."
He mentioned three of the four donors listed in the complaint were first-time donors to a political cause, which he is "very proud of," and two of the four are non-white.
"Every single one of the businesses that has donated to my campaign thus far is either a minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned or a local small business; people who don't typically give to campaigns," he said. "Every one of my donors is doing something courageous right now. They are investing in a better democracy by contributing to my campaign."