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The City of Portland, Oregon

Auditor Mary Hull Caballero

Promoting open and accountable government

Status of Campaign Finance Charter Amendment

Information and Updates on the City of Portland Campaign Finance Charter Amendment (Portland Ballot Measure 26-200)

 (Latest update: October 13, 2020)

Q.  Are there campaign finance limits or rules that apply to City elections?

A.  Yes.  On November 6, 2018, voters amended the City of Portland Charter relating to the election of City of Portland candidates for Mayor, City Commissioner, or Auditor. On January 16, 2019, the Portland City Council took the first step to carry out the voters’ will by adopting Ordinance No. 189348 to implement the Charter amendment. The Charter amendment generally requires:

  • Limits on how much a donor can contribute to a political campaign;
  • Limits on how much a campaign can spend (also called “expenditure” limits);
  • Certain fundraising organizations to register as political committees (commonly thought of as “political actions committees” or “PACs”);
  • Campaigns to disclose details about their funding; and
  • An employee’s right to make campaign contributions by payroll deduction in some circumstances.

The voters required the City Auditor’s Office to administer and enforce the Charter’s new requirements. 

Q.  Is the City enforcing the campaign finance and disclosure rules?    

A.  The City is enforcing provisions that a court has found constitutional. The two provisions that courts have not found constitutional are the self-funding limits in Charter Section 3-301(b)(3) and the expenditure limits in Charter Sections 3-302(a) and (c).  

Q.  What Court decisions have been issued about the legality of the campaign finance rules?

A.  The Multnomah County Circuit Court issued a General Judgment on October 6, 2020, confirming the validity of Code Section 2.10.010 and Charter Section 3-301. The following sections on expenditure limits were held to be invalid: Charter Sections 3-302(a), (c) and Code Sections 2.10.020(A), (C). 

The Circuit Court did not specifically address Charter Section 3-301(b)(3), which limits the amount a candidate may loan to the candidate’s own campaign.  Self-funding limits have been held to be unconstitutional under federal law and that section is not being enforced by the Auditor’s Office.

Q.  Can you provide a timeline of the litigation up to this point?

A.  Below is a timeline of the important decisions in the City’s efforts to have the Circuit Court validate the Charter amendments.  There is ongoing litigation related to specific enforcement decisions that is not outlined here, but this website will be updated with any information that changes the Auditor’s enforcement authority. 

After the voters amended the Charter, in February 2019 the City filed a petition with the Multnomah County Circuit Court, asking the Court to validate the Charter amendments as constitutional. 

On June 10, 2019 the Circuit Court issued an opinion validating the constitutionality of several sections of the Charter amendments:

  • Charter sections 3-302(b) and Portland City Code section 2.10.020(B), requiring certain entities making independent expenditures greater than $750 to register as Political Committees;
  • Charter section 3-303 and Code section 2.10.030, requiring campaigns to disclose the origins of campaign contributions and independent expenditures; and
  • Charter section 3-301(c) and Code sections 2.10.010(C), requiring employers to allow employees to make campaign contributions through payroll deductions.

The City began enforcing those requirements on September 1, 2019.

The provisions limiting campaign contributions and expenditures, however, were struck down by the Circuit Court and continued to be litigated. 

On April 23, 2020, the Oregon Supreme Court held for the first time that campaign contribution limits are lawful under the Oregon Constitution.  That Supreme Court decision was in a case called Multnomah County v. Mehrwein.  The Mehrwein decision reversed a longstanding rule from an older Supreme Court decision that previously held that limits on campaign donations were unconstitutional.  At issue in Mehrwein were campaign finance rules in County elections, not the City’s rules.  The decision addressed the legality of some, but not all, of the new City rules. For example, limits on self-funding were not addressed in Mehrwein.

After Mehrwein, the Oregon Court of Appeals Ordered the Multnomah County Circuit Court to reconsider its June 10, 2019 decision. 

On May 4, 2020, the City began enforcing the portion of the City Code and Charter relating to contribution limits in City elections, which were lawful under Mehrwein, and included the following:  Charter sections 3-301 (a)-(b) and Code sections 2.10.010 (A)-(B), relating to limitations on campaign contributions.

However, the City still is not enforcing provisions requiring self-funding limits (Charter section 3-301(b)(3)).  The City is also not enforcing Charter Sections 3-302(a) and (c) and Code sections 2.10.020(A), (C), relating to limitations on campaign expenditures.  The Circuit Court has confirmed those provisions to be invalid.   

Q.  Are the Charter amendments still in court?

A.  Yes, there are several ongoing lawsuits challenging the legality of the rules and the manner in which the City is enforcing them.  This includes a challenge to the City’s decision not to enforce the self-funding limits. There have been no court decisions yet, but this page will be updated when additional guidance is received from the courts.

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