Portland candidate fined $77K over campaign office deal | National Politics

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A man running for a seat on the Portland City Council has been fined $77,000 for accepting a steep discount on campaign office rent and not reporting.

Since May, Rene Gonzalez’s campaign has been paying a paltry $250 a month to rent more than 3,000 square feet in a Portland office building owned by Jordan Schnitzer, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

Schnitzer is a real estate mogul and philanthropist who, according to campaign finance reports, donated $250 to the candidate, the most money legally allowed.

Susan Mottet, program director for small donor elections in Portland, wrote in a letter to Gonzalez Tuesday that the office, which comes with two parking spaces, has a fair market value of about $6,900 a month. That equates to an unreported 96% rebate, which Mottet claimed was an illegal in-kind donation under the city’s public campaign funding program.

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Both Gonzalez and his opponent, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, participate in the Small Donor Elections program, an attempt by the city to remove big money from politics.

Under program rules, candidates receive a 9-to-1 match for the first $20 received from a donor. That means a $20 donation could turn into $200 with $180 from the city. In return, candidates agree to restrictions, including capping the maximum amount they can receive from a single donor at $250.

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They are also not allowed to accept donations in kind — of time, goods, services — from businesses, Mottet said.

To date, Gonzalez has received $370,000 in city money through the program and now has approximately $175,000 in his campaign coffers, according to campaign finance records.

In a statement, Gonzalez campaign manager Shah Smith said the modest rent was not an in-kind payment but what anyone looking to rent office space would pay in downtown, an area struggling to recover from the pandemic.

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“We reviewed the (city) rules when we finalized the lease and disagree, deciding that the rent is too low given the dire state of downtown,” he wrote. “Landlords must offer significant amounts of free rental months, secured parking and investment in tenant improvements to get tenants to even consider renting,” he said.

Smith also said the campaign plans to appeal.

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