Ethics Complaint Alleges Funding Republicans Senators’ Walkout Violates Oregon Ethics, Campaign Law

McMinnville child welfare worker claims that Senate absences and fundraising activities are unlawful—and she wants the state to investigate.

Oregon State Capitol (Edmund Garman / Flickr)

Andrea Kennedy-Smith, a child welfare worker from McMinnville, filed a complaint against the GOP senators with the Oregon Ethics Commission and the Oregon Secretary of State on June 26.

She says the Senate absences and subsequent fundraising activities violate Oregon ethics and campaign finance laws — and she wants the state to investigate.

It's been a eventful week.

On June 20, Senate Republicans walked out of the Capitol to avoid voting on a climate bill; Governor Kate Brown sent the state police to look for them. Over the weekend, the remaining members of the Senate canceled a previously-scheduled floor session, citing "credible militia threat." As of Monday, the absentee GOP members were reported to be "hiding out" in Idaho, equipped with iPads and burner phones. And on Tuesday, Senate President Peter Courtney conceded the climate bill completely, saying that legislators lacked the votes necessary to pass it. The senators remain AWOL.

The activities Kennedy-Smith refers to in her complaints, first reported by The Oregonian, come primarily in the form of online crowdfunding campaigns, as well as large donations or shows of support from Browning Logging, former gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler, and the Oregon Firearms Foundation to the Senate leadership PAC.

Carol Williams, creator of GoFundme campaign Encourage the Walking Senators, states on the campaign's page that the funds will be used toward "traveling expenses, expenses needed while out of state, or unlawful fines imposed by Kate."

The campaign is currently at $43,247 of its $49,500 goal.

"I will be withdrawing funds into my own personal account," Williams continues, "and will then disburse to the senators through the methods that are approved by Oregon state law."

But Kennedy-Smith says that approach isn't approved by Oregon law.

She's supported by the Get Back to Work Coalition, which includes organizations Renew Oregon, Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Pineros y Campesinos del Noroeste (PCUN), Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, Basic Rights Oregon, SEIU, Oregon Education Association and AFSCME. Their letter, which refers to Senate Republicans as the "Absent Eleven," asks that the Oregon Government Ethics Commission and the Secretary of State's office conduct independent investigations into the Republican senators' activities.

They aren't the only ones. KVTL reports that Medford City Councilor Kevin Stine denounced the campaign last week for similar reasons.

Money raised through the GoFundMe site or political contributions, they claim, cannot be used to defray the fines or expenses related to the senators' absence.

"There must be accountability and transparency into the campaign finance activities. We need to know who is funding the costs for these politicians to hide out of state," says Kennedy-Smith.

Meanwhile, it appears that GoFundMe has taken action on its own. The crowdfunding platform has put a hold on the cash and is asking for additional info from individual donors, according to Williams' most recent campaign update.

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