November 12, 2019

The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners have kept a promise to voters, adopting campaign finance disclosure regulations since a 2016 ballot measure aimed to change how money influences politics.

Beginning Dec. 7, 2019, all candidates for the County’s seven elected positions, including County Chair, Sheriff, Commissioners, and Auditor, will face new funding disclosure requirements. 

The requirements go into effect 30 days after the Board unanimously approved an ordinance on Nov. 7 that requires disclosure of funding sources on campaign communications such as audio, video and print advertisements. The disclosures are required for communications funded with more than $300. They apply to individuals — including candidates — as well as entities such as political organizations, corporations and nonprofits that fund communications in support of, or opposition to, candidates for County positions.

“As the costs of running for office continues to rise, voters told us that we not only need to limit the amounts of campaign contributions, but that we must also pay attention to where that money is coming from in the first place,’’ Chair Deborah Kafoury said. “This ordinance protects that integrity by requiring candidates to let voters know who is funding their campaigns for political office.’’

How we got here:

In November 2016, nearly 89 percent of voters approved amending the Multnomah County Charter to place limitations on campaign contributions and spending in races for Multnomah County elective offices and to require certain disclosures.

In April 2017, the Board adopted an ordinance implementing that Charter amendment. 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.  

A Multnomah County Circuit Court judge struck down portions of the County’s measure in March 2018. But the same judge, when considering a similar measure passed by City of Portland voters, upheld disclosure requirements in a subsequent decision in 2019. That decision paved the way for the County to take action on campaign finance disclosures and continue its commitment to voters.

The new ordinance requires disclosure on a communication funded with more than $300 in the following circumstances:

  • If the communication is funded by an Individual who has spent more than $1,000 on a candidate in an election cycle, then they must disclose their name on the communication.   

  • If the communication is funded by an Entity, then the name of the Entity and the Entity’s top five largest financial contributors, over $1,000 in an election cycle, must also be disclosed on the communication, and   

  • If any of the aforementioned largest contributors are a political committee or nonprofit, then those political committees or nonprofits must also disclose their own top three largest contributors, who provided them with the largest amounts of funding over $1,000 during the election cycle. 

Some communications are exempt, such as small items worn or carried by individuals (such as buttons), bumper stickers or signs smaller than six square feet. No disclosure is required for communications funded with $300 or less. More specific details about the ordinance and its rule will be provided soon. 

What’s next 

The ordinance takes effect on Dec. 7, 2019. It will be enforced through a complaint-driven process and implemented by the Multnomah County Elections Division. Since the program is in a development phase, the County’s Elections Director plans to propose administrative rules that would result in a letter of education for a first violation, followed by monetary penalties for subsequent violations. The administrative rules will also include more information on how to file complaints and the enforcement process.

As with any new program, the County will continually evaluate the program to ensure it is effective and responsive to the voters’ intent. These disclosures are designed to provide information, improve transparency and accountability around the sources of spending in Multnomah County candidate elections and prevent any deception of the electorate.