Multnomah County Campaign Finance Charter Amendment Frequently Asked Questions
Updated March 7, 2017
Circuit Court strikes down most of Campaign Finance Amendment
Circuit Court Judge Eric J. Block on March 6 struck down key elements of a Multnomah County Charter amendment that would limit campaign contributions to $500, independent expenditures and a requirement that the largest contributors for each campaign mailing be disclosed. The Judge also struck down sections relating to disclosing contributions and spending for communications saying all the measures violated Oregon's Constitutional protection of free speech.
The Judge upheld requirements in the amendment around registering as a candidate and payroll deductions as permissible under state and federal law.
In his ruling, Judge Bloch cited a 2006 Oregon Supreme Court ruling that "Since the inception of the Oregon Constitution, Article I, Section 8 has strictly prohibited any legislation "restraining the free expression of opinion or restricting the right to speak right or print freely on any subject whatever.'' Under Oregon law, both campaign contributions and expenditures are forms of expression protected by that constitutional provision, thus making legislatively imposed limitations on individual campaign contributions and expenditures impermissible.''
You can read the Judge's opinion here:
What is happening with campaign finance in Multnomah County?
On Nov. 8, 2016, voters amended the Multnomah County Charter to include limits on campaign contributions and the amount of money that can be spent to support or oppose candidates for Multnomah County office. The measure also requires various disclosures of contributions and spending.
But, as almost every aspect of the measure is being challenged in court, the County’s ability to implement the measure will depend on court rulings. As a result, the County is taking care to move forward in a planful way that respects the rule of law and the constitutional rights at issue.
How did we get here?
On April 6, 2017, the Board of Commissioners took the first step to carry out the voter’s will by adopting an ordinance. The full text of the ordinance can be found here. But because similar measures have been repeatedly challenged as violating free speech rights, the Board also asked the County Attorney to petition the Courts to provide legal certainty about the constitutionality of these provisions. On May 3, 2017, the County filed a validation proceeding requesting the Circuit Court to uphold the constitutionality of the County campaign finance provisions under the Oregon and United States Constitutions. The validation action is an expedited proceeding, and we are waiting for the judge to issue an opinion and order. With that ruling still pending, the county is taking care not to take any actions that will infringe on the rights guaranteed by the United States and Oregon Constitutions.
I’m a candidate, how should I proceed?
By their terms, both the Charter amendment and Ordinance become operative no later than September 1, 2017. Given the uncertainty due to the pending Court case, candidates for Multnomah County office are advised to seek private counsel to discuss your individual needs.
What does the campaign finance legislation regulate?
The legislation generally establishes:
(1) campaign contribution limits;
(2) expenditure and independent expenditure limits;
(3) registration and disclosure requirements; and
(4) mechanisms to administer and enforce those provisions.
How does this affect what I can contribute or what contributions I can receive?The legislation provides:
“(a) An Individual or Entity may make Contributions only as specifically allowed to be received in this Section.
(b) A Candidate or Candidate Committee may receive only the following contributions during any Election Cycle:
(A) Not more than five hundred dollars ($500) from an Individual or a Political Committee other than a Small Donor Committee;
(B) Any amount from a Small Donor Committee; and
(C) No amount from any other Entity.”
How does this affect what I can spend?The legislation provides:
“No individual or Entity shall expend funds to support or oppose a Candidate, except those collected from the sources and under the Contribution limits set forth in this Section.”
In addition, the legislation regulates Independent Expenditures, as defined in state law, as follows:
“Only the following Independent Expenditures are allowed per Election Cycle to support or oppose one or more Candidates in any particular Multnomah County Candidate Election:
(A) An individual may make aggregate Independent Expenditures of not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000).
(B) A Small Donor Committee may make Independent Expenditures in any amounts from funds contributed in compliance with [the contribution limits].
(C) A Political Committee may make aggregate Independent Expenditures of not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000), provided that the Independent Expenditures are funded by means of contributions to the Political Committee by Individuals in amounts not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500) per Individual per year.”
What are the registration requirements?The legislation provides:
“An Entity shall register as a Political Committee within three (3) business days of making aggregate Independent Expenditures exceeding $750 in any Election cycle to support or oppose one or more Candidates in any Multnomah County Candidate Election.”No party to the validation proceeding has challenged the validity of this provision. This provision was intended to align with state registration requirements, and entities therefore should register with the Oregon Secretary of State as provided in state law when they have made aggregate Independent Expenditures exceeding $750 as described in the County legislation.
What are the disclosure requirements?
The legislation provides:
“Each Communication to voters related to a Multnomah County Candidate Election shall prominently disclose the Individuals and Entities that are the five largest true original sources, in excess of $500 each, of the Contributions and/or Independent Expenditures used to fund the Communication.”
Are there other administrative provisions of the legislation that could affect the public?Yes. The legislation addresses contributions made by payroll deduction and specifically provides:
“Individuals shall have the right to make contributions by payroll deduction by any private or public employer upon the employer’s agreement or if such deduction is available to the employees for any other purpose.”
What does the legislation say about enforcement?The legislation provides:
“Each violation of any provision in this Section shall be punishable by imposition of a civil fine, which is not less than two or more than twenty times the amount of the unlawful Contribution or Expenditure or Independent Expenditure.”
Where can complaints be submitted?
If you believe there has been a violation of the County’s campaign finance legislation, complaints can be submitted via email at email@example.com or by calling 503-988-0477.