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Dec. 10, 2022

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Portland City Council hopeful demands waiver of $77K fine

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PORTLAND — A Portland City Council candidate has formally asked elections officials to waive a $77,000 fine, arguing that a deeply discounted downtown office space he received from a wealthy backer doesn’t go against the city’s campaign finance rules.

Since May, Rene Gonzalez’s campaign has paid a $250 a month to rent the space in a downtown building owned by real estate mogul Jordan Schnitzer.

Portland’s Small Donor Elections program director Susan Mottet has said the fair market value of the office and two parking spaces is about $6,900 a month, and calls the discount an illegal in-kind contribution.

Both Gonzalez, a lawyer challenging incumbent Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty are participating in the Small Donor Elections program, a city effort to remove big money from politics. He has received more than $370,000 from the small donor program for his City Council race.

Under the program rules, candidates receive a 9-to-1 match on the first $20 they receive from a donor. That means a donation of $20 could become $200 with $180 from the city. In return, the candidates agree to not take donations of time, goods and services, from businesses.

In letter to the city Tuesday, the Gonzalez campaign contends that assessment of downtown rental rates is grossly exaggerated, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

“Once upon a time, in happier days, this amount might have been accurate in that a willing tenant would gladly pay it,” the letter said.

The Gonzalez campaign said the space it’s renting had been vacant since 2020, objecting to the city’s claims that the discounted office space constitutes an in-kind contribution that exceeds the $5,000 limit.

Mottet also erred because listings alone aren’t enough to determine what is fair market, the campaign alleged.

Mottet said the city expects to respond to Gonzalez’s challenge within the coming days.

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