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Campaign to Recall Wheeler Continues to Struggle

Despite anemic progress, it continues to recruit volunteer and paid signature gatherers.

The campaign to recall Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is undeterred even as its signature numbers are far below the two-thirds of the way it needs to be through the signature-collecting window.

The campaign had 90 days to collect just under 48,000 valid signatures. The recall effort’s clock runs out Oct. 6.

Right now, says campaign manager Audrey Caines, just under 13,000 signatures have been collected.

That’s not even one-fifth of the necessary signatures to get the recall on the ballot this fall, assuming all the signatures are valid, which is generally not the case.

But despite poor results so far, the campaign continues to solicit money from donors, recruit volunteer signature collectors, and train new paid signature gatherers.

Caines tells WW there are currently 18 paid petitioners and 15 volunteers knocking on doors.

“We have the funding to continue hiring, and we’re putting out calls for volunteers to join door-to-door daily,” Caines says. “We raised enough funds through the pledge drive that we’re able to fund signature gathering through the end of the campaign.”

The first signs the recall campaign might fall short came Aug. 11, when the recall campaign announced it had collected just under 6,000 signatures in the first month of its efforts. At that time, the campaign made a plea to donors: You have to make substantial donations, or we won’t make it.

The campaign also announced an ambitious goal of getting 20,000 signatures within a two-week span after the release of the preliminary numbers. Nearly a month later, however, the campaign has added only 7,000 more signatures.

One of the campaign’s chief criticisms of Wheeler was his donation of over $150,000 to his own reelection campaign, alleging that he defied voter-approved limits on candidates’ donations to their own campaigns. But Wheeler fought back, citing a Supreme Court case that found it unconstitutional to limit a candidate’s self-donations. The city elections office agreed.

The current limit on campaign contributions is $500, a ballot measure Portland voters approved in 2018 but that was not enforced until May 2020.

A handful of the recall campaign’s donors have given over $5,000. One donor topped $6,600.

The city’s elections office explains that the cap on donations only applies to “candidates or principal campaign committees of candidates” under city rules.

“A political committee that is not a principal campaign committee is not limited in the amount of donations it receives,” office spokeswoman Louise Hanson said.