Last September, a volunteer with Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith's campaign began asking Multnomah County Democrats to give Smith a privilege the party reserved for candidates officially running for office.
The request teed up a conflict:
The Multnomah County charter prohibits commissioners from running for another position prior to their final year in office. That meant if Smith began running for city council last September, she should have resigned her county seat.
Emails obtained by WW show that Jerome Brooks, a former staffer for Smith at the county, approached the Multnomah County Democrats asking for access to the party's voter database that helps candidates track what individual voters to target for knocking on doors and phone banking.
At the time, the county party had a policy that required Democrats to file to run before getting access to the data tool called the "voter activation network," or VAN, developed for Barack Obama's first run for the White House and used by Democrats across the country since.
But Brooks sought special consideration for Smith, because she was hamstrung by the county charter.
"I would think the County Party would…allow exception for the few people who would be caught in this predicament," Brooks emailed on Sept. 5, 2017.
Brooks' email exchange with party officials offer one more indication that Smith was campaigning in September, despite her denials to the contrary.
"You're not going to ask for VAN access if you don't have an active campaign running," says former Multnomah Democratic Party's Tracee Larson, who was chair of the campaign candidate liaison committee.
State officials last month determined that Smith had in fact launched her candidacy for the seat being vacated by City Commissioner Dan Saltzman last year, even though she claimed otherwise.
The Oregon Secretary of State's election division fined her $250 for failing to properly register her campaign committee.
But it remains an open question whether Smith will have to resign her county seat for violating the charter's rules. Smith maintains that, under legal advice she received from the county, she could retain her seat so long as she didn't file. Smith officially filed for the City Council race on Jan. 2.
Brooks' emails with the Multnomah Democratic Party show Smith's campaign volunteer sought access to the voter database even before Saltzman announced he wasn't going to run again.
In the Sept. 5 email, sent a week to the day Saltzman shocked City Hall with his retirement announcement, Brooks explained his original request for VAN access this way:
"As [Smith] is currently a sitting County Commissioner, she won't actually file for election until January 1, 2018, as she would have to resign her seat to file for another office before January 1st," Brooks wrote. "We'd like to get access to the voter file as soon as possible."
Larson turned Brooks down, citing party policy restricted the VAN to official candidates.
A week later, Brooks tried again.
"Loretta will file for Portland City Council seat #3, currently held by Commissioner Dan Saltzman," Brooks wrote on Sept. 12. "She made her announcement public earlier today and her website landing page is already up – www.lorettaforportland.com."
Larson resigned her post in September. Since then, the Democrats offered Smith access to the VAN in part based on the advice of the Democratic Party of Oregon.
DPO executive director Brad Martin says he advised the county party to give Smith VAN access in order to be more inclusive.
"We want to encourage candidates to do grassroots outreach," Martin says. "We encourage [county parties] to give them access when there's a reasonable expectation they will be candidates."
On Nov. 13, the Smith campaign cut a $750 check to the DPO for "voter database access."
Asked why Smith would seek access to a voter database if she wasn't campaigning already, Smith campaign spokesman Jake Weigler said the campaign needed it for research purposes.
"It was necessary to renew the Commissioner's voter file subscription to maintain access to her data in the file and analyze the makeup of the electorate," he says.
Here is the email correspondence (email addresses and phone numbers were removed):
Read from the bottom.