The Oregon Secretary of State’s office is investigating People for Portland for possible violations of election law. The controversial nonprofit has become an influential voice in the local homelessness debate in 2021 after advocating for aggressive policies aimed at preventing homeless people from occupying public spaces.
A complaint lodged On March 15, on behalf of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, the people of Portland violated Oregon law by failing to file an organization statement or as an independent filer of expenses. Breach would mean People for Portland raised and spent funds in an attempt to support or oppose a clearly identified political candidate without fulfilling the legal requirements to do so.
At press time, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 had not responded to Street Roots’ request for comment.
According to the complaint, first reported by The Oregonian in March, People for Portland raised money for political candidates and ran ads to influence voters in the 2022 primaries without registering as a political action committee, or PAC. A list of Oregon secretary of state’s ongoing investigations obtained by Street Roots shows the office is actively investigating the complaint.
Ben Morris, director of communications for the secretary of state’s office, confirmed that the investigation was ongoing.
“The Oregon Electoral Division is currently investigating this complaint,” Morris said. “An investigation does not imply any wrongdoing.”
Morris said the secretary of state’s office could not comment further on the allegations until the investigation was complete, but confirmed that People for Portland had never did not submit any documents to establish itself as a political committee.
According to Morris, most penalties for campaign finance violations are monetary civil penalties. The sadness for failing to establish a political committee is $250. The maximum penalty for failure to report campaign finance transactions is 10% of the amount of the transactions.
Morris said the office could not provide a time frame for when the investigation would be complete.
People for Portland is associated with a PAC called Everyone Deserves a Safe Shelter, which has raised over $450,000 in contributions. According to the Secretary of State’s office, Everyone Deserves Safe Shelter is a separate entity whose activity falls outside the scope of the complaint.
The complaint cites a series of Facebook ads allegedly targeting Metro Council President Lynn Peterson as part of a successful re-election campaign. In one example, a Facebook ad states, “We give local politicians marks for their promises. See what you think. Below the text is an image showing Peterson alongside Governor Kate Brown, Mayor Ted Wheeler and Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury on a report card with the word “FAILURE” in red block letters stamped above it. above them.
Another example cites a Facebook post titled “People’s Statement for Portland on Wheeler/Adams Memo” which reads, “Don’t blame us for the mayor’s incompetence or bad ideas. This one is both. The post criticizes the mayor, county chairman, metro chairman and governor for failing to adequately address homelessness. “We will continue to pressure them until they do their job, resign or are replaced.”
The complaint argues that the post is a clear incitement to incite criticism of elected officials, stating that “People for Portland’s goal is to have them ‘replaced.'”
People for Portland has provided Street Roots with a copy of its formal response to the Secretary of State’s office, which maintains that People for Portland does not advocate for or against particular candidates and asks that UFCW’s complaint be dismissed.
“People for Portland is not advocating for anyone to be elected or defeated. Its purpose is to advocate for bolder action by members of government,” the response reads. “To do this, it seeks to educate the public about what their governments – state, city, county and metro – are doing and not doing, and it helps the public reach out to them to express their views.”
People for Portland also maintains that it is not a political committee, as it has “received no input for the purpose of advocating for the election or defeat of any candidate for office.”
The complaint notes that People for Portland has a donation portal on its site and refers to an article by the OPB published in February reporting that the nonprofit has received donations from several donors, including a $15,000 donation from local developer David Gold, and has also run several Facebook ad campaigns aimed at criticizing public officials and influencing voters.
People for Portland is a 501(c)(4), which means it is potentially exempt from filing tax forms disclosing financial information. A search of IRS records returned no such tax returns.
People for Portland’s self-proclaimed mission is to advocate for solutions to the “crisis of homelessness, uncontrolled accumulation of litter in public spaces, and public safety.”
While the organization claims to target public safety, in practice its efforts focus on Portland’s homeless, and the group has sought to rally public support for tactics aimed at forcing homeless people to leave. the street. Those efforts included crafting a ballot measure introduced in March proposing to divert money from affordable housing and homeless services to emergency shelters. The measure was also intended to force Portland-area governments to implement strict police enforcement of bans on homeless people sleeping in public in order to receive funding.
Metro initially rejected the measure after finding it violated the Oregon Constitution, and a later judge supported the findings after People for Portland challenged Metro in court. After two unsuccessful attempts to maintain the measurePeople For Portland’s PAC Everyone Deserves A Safe Shelter returned more than $360,000 in contributions, including several donations exceeding $40,000, including $50,000 in donations from Killian Pacific, Schnitzer Properties and Harmony Capital Investments.
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