Portland City Elections Officer Issues Unusual Rebuke of Mayor Ted Wheeler

After Deborah Scroggin dinged the mayor’s campaign, he erroneously claimed other campaigns were equally guilty.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler swims in the Willamette River. (Thomas Teal)

For an experienced politician who has previously run successfully for Multnomah County chairman, state treasure and mayor, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is struggling with the mechanics of his campaign for reelection.

Yesterday, City Election Officer Deborah Scroggin notified Wheeler's campaign that it was in violation of city rules requiring disclosure of its major contributors on its websites and social media feeds. Wheeler's campaign manager, Amy Rathfelder, said the campaign would fix the problem. But hours later, in a televised candidate debate, Wheeler said other campaigns were guilty of the same violations.

This afternoon, Scroggin took the unusual step of issuing a statement correcting Wheeler's claims.

"Yesterday, during a televised Portland mayoral candidate debate, Mayor Ted Wheeler incorrectly stated requirements of the city's voter-adopted campaign regulations," Scroggin wrote."Not every candidate is in violation of the regulations, as stated. For example, some candidates don't have larger donors or political committees to disclose and certain campaign signs are exempt. Guidance was given to each candidate, including the mayor, at the time they qualified to appear on the ballot about the basics of disclosure requirements and the various communication channels requiring disclosures."

(Although she is a city employee, Scroggin does not work for Wheeler. Instead, she works for City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero, who is independently elected.)

"The mayor also stated he is awaiting clarification from the Auditor's Office on these regulations," Scroggin continued. "The City Elections Office has not fielded inquiries from anyone with the mayor's campaign prior to alerting him to a complaint received on March 20. There are also no outstanding requests made to the Elections Office for information or assistance from the campaign."

Wheeler, who is seeking reelection, is facing 17 opponents, but none has held significant elected office previously or has the kind of funding or backing it normally takes to beat an incumbent.

Yet his campaign has allowed finance to become an issue, setting contribution limits ($5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for organizations) far above the limits placed on candidates seeking public campaign financing, such as one of his leading opponents, Sarah Iannarone.

Wheeler's campaign spokesperson, Lorien Sekora, said this afternoon that the mayor wasn't trying to shift blame.

"In the letter from the city, they acknowledged that the complexity of the rules were a barrier to full compliance, and allowed until May 5 for all campaigns that had received contributions in excess of $1,000 to comply," Sekora said. "And we will be in full compliance prior to the deadline."

"The point of the mayor's statement, Sekora added, "was simply to note this complexity, and the fact that his campaign was not the only one awaiting clarification."

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