A Hefty Check Shows How Contribution Limits Amplify Independent Expenditures

Multnomah County commissioner candidates raise money in modest increments and suffer the slings and arrows of deep-pocketed critics.

Shannon Singleton




United for Portland Action Fund


The Wolff Company of Scottsdale, Ariz.


Multnomah County voters approved campaign contribution limits overwhelmingly in 2016 that, after years of legal wrangling, went into effect in 2022. Individuals may give up to $568 per election cycle, while corporations may not give at all. In one way, the limits have worked: In the closely contested District 2 race for county commissioner in North and Northeast Portland, Jessie Burke has raised $108,000, Sam Adams $104,000, and Shannon Singleton just $30,000. That’s far less than would have been likely before the limits. But because unlimited independent expenditures remain legal under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, the limits magnify the relative effect of such expenditures. One example: on May 1, United for Portland Action Fund, a business-backed political action committee, disclosed spending $95,297 on hit pieces targeting Singleton, the most liberal candidate in the District 2 race. The mailers hammering Singleton wiped out nearly all of the PAC’s cash, but on May 2, it reported an infusion of new money—$90,000 from the Wolff Company, which, according to its website, purchased a 211-unit apartment building in the Mississippi neighborhood in 2021 for $78.5 million (Wolff representatives didn’t respond to a request for comment). Jason Kafoury, a Portland lawyer who helped write the contribution limits, says there’s no way to stop independent expenditures. He and his allies would like the county to tighten disclosure requirements on mailers and advertising so voters have more information about such expenditures, and to adopt public financing for candidates. “Big money is going to try to continue to dominate elections,” Kafoury says. “We need to try to level the playing field.” United for Portland says it’s just trying to make things better. “The pitch we make to donors is we have a historic opportunity to get the city of Portland back on track,” the group’s Doug Moore says.

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