Sarah Iannarone’s Campaign Warns Teressa Raiford Can’t Legally Participate in Portland Mayor’s Debate

Earlier this month, the City Auditor’s Office issued a warning to the organizers of the write-in Raiford campaign, saying it was breaking Portland campaign finance regulations.

Teressa Raiford write-in campaign poster. (Aaron Mesh)

An ongoing dispute over the legality of Teressa Raiford's write-in campaign for mayor could scuttle a debate planned for next week in East Portland.

Campaign staff for leading challenger Sarah Iannarone on Wednesday said Iannarone may have to withdraw from the debate if Raiford participates—because Raiford has told city elections officials she wasn't campaigning.

"If [Raiford] is running, she's out of compliance with the city's campaign finance laws and it would appear she lied to the city," Iannarone's campaign director Gregory McKelvey told organizers of the East Portland Mayor Forum in an Oct. 21 email. "Either way we need to check with the auditor now to ensure our participation with the illegality does not put us out of compliance."

The context of McKelvey's warning is a little complicated. It emerges from the latest internecine war among Portland progressives.

Iannarone is on the November ballot, running to the left of incumbent Mayor Ted Wheeler. Raiford, a Black Lives Matter activist and founder of Don't Shoot Portland, is not on the ballot, having finished third in the May primary.

But a group of activists revived her mayoral campaign this summer and is urging Portlanders to write in Raiford's name, saying she more authentically represents the energy of street protests. 

The Write In Teressa Raiford campaign did not, however, report any of its financial contributions or expenditures to the state—a legal requirement for all campaigns, even write-in efforts. Earlier this month, the City Auditor's Office issued a warning to the organizers of the write-in campaign, saying it was breaking Portland campaign finance regulations by not registering an account on the state ORESTAR website to report donations, and not disclosing its largest funders on its campaign website.

That Oct. 9 warning came in response to a complaint, filed anonymously in September, that alleged the Raiford write-in campaign was orchestrated by Raiford and commingled with Don't Shoot Portland, her racial justice nonprofit.

But the auditor said volunteers for the write-in campaign produced evidence that they operated independently from Raiford.

"In response to this complaint, Teressa Raiford stated her campaign has no relationship with the write-in campaign, it has closed all its accounts, and there are no officers directly involved in the write-in campaign's organizing efforts," the city's warning letter said. "In its response, the write-in campaign represented that its people are not following orders from any single person and that it is not in communication with candidate Teressa Raiford."

The write-in campaign organizers told WW this month that they would comply with the requirement to start an ORESTAR account, although they believed the complaint was unfair.

"This complaint [against the write-in campaign] successfully exploited oppressive bureaucratic systems meant to disenfranchise marginalized campaigns," wrote volunteers Jacinda Padilla and Token Rose to WW. "We are working diligently to file transactions retroactively and have been in contact with the auditor's office, secretary of state, attorneys and campaign compliance officers."

The warning from the City Elections Office came amid increasingly bitter disputes between the Iannarone and Raiford campaigns, many of them conducted on social media platforms. In the past week, Raiford received scrutiny for posting a photo of her ballot, which showed she had voted for Mingus Mapps, a City Council candidate who is Black but who has received the endorsement of the Portland Police Association.

But the city auditor's warning became newly relevant on Oct. 21, when McKelvey said Raiford's claim not to be involved in the write-in campaign was belied by her plans to participate in the East Portland Mayor Forum (which is being organized by staff in the city's East Portland Community Office).

McKelvey said Iannarone's team feared it would itself be breaking city elections regulations if it knowingly participated in a debate against a candidate who wasn't supposed to campaign.

"Further," he concluded in an email to JR Lilly, the East Portland Action Plan advocate who is organizing next week's debate, "you might want to check with the auditor before you have [Raiford] on—it could cost her and you a lot of money in fines."

The debate is scheduled for next Wednesday, Oct. 28. The Iannarone campaign expects to participate but is still looking at the rules.

"We would not and have not pulled or threatened to pull from a debate because of Teressa Raiford's participation," Iannarone campaign treasurer James Ofsink says. "We would however refrain from participating in any activity that would jeopardize our compliance with campaign finance regulations.

"We always strive to do our due diligence," Ofsink adds, "especially when appearing in a city of Portland-promoted event with a candidate who has told the city auditor she is not a candidate and whose campaign has failed to adhere to the most basic of campaign finance laws."

Volunteers for the Raiford write-in campaign say the East Portland Mayor's Forum invited Raiford, and campaign volunteers expect Raiford to attend.

"I'm sure the Iannarone campaign will continue to try to dismiss the campaign in any capacity they can," a volunteer replied to an email from WW. "I trust the East Portland Mayoral Forum and Teressa's law experience to know if this is going to harm her or us."

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