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Hall Monitor

Trust Issues Haunt Charlie Hales

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CHARLIE HALES' mayoral campaign, in some respects, has had a very nice run over the past few weeks. He watched, almost silently, while Jefferson Smith's campaign endured a rainfall of body blows over Smith's ineffectual handling of reports on his 1993 assault citation.

Hales' fundraising operation just passed the crucial $1 million milestone—right at the same time as the assault controversy slowed Smith's team. And Hales' aides shouted all over social media after five of the city's newspapers—the Mercury, Skanner, Willamette Week, Tribune, and Oregonian—all gave him their (caveat-filled, reluctant) endorsements.

Hales should have been content to bask in an aura of inevitability that's infected even some of Smith's most vocal supporters. But Hales being Hales, he couldn't help but find a way to trip over himself—and remind everyone about the serious trust issues that still haunt his campaign.

As the Mercury first reported, Hales sensed a stealthy chance to kick Smith while he was down, sending his rival a letter—couched as an opportunity for both campaigns—suggesting they drop their voluntary limits on campaign contributions when it comes to collecting "in-kind" gifts from powerhouse labor unions.

The letter was sent right after some of Smith's best friends in labor—the city's police and firefighter unions—had unceremoniously dropped him. And it came at the same time as Hales' own labor supporters, like the Service Employees International Union, made it clear they could be of much greater service.

Hales had been first to come forward with contribution limits this summer, announcing he'd take no more than $600 from any individual entity. That promise was always more political than personal—a means of getting ahead of Smith on his own good-government turf. And then, when it was no longer of use (presumably because Hales wanted to unleash his supporters for a finishing ad blitz)—he decided it was time to cast it aside.

His campaign insisted there would still be a cap on how much a union could contribute: $50 per member. But that still opens the way for gifts worth thousands of dollars.

Then, more disturbing evidence of Hales' disregard for his promise emerged a couple of days later. That's when the Oregonian revealed the existence of contribution bundlers the Hales campaign has dubbed "deputy prospects."

By outsourcing fundraising to these "deputy prospects," by asking them to extract thousands from their own relatives and associates, the Hales campaign had found yet another ingenious way to skirt its voluntary limits.

I asked Hales whether the shifting rules for unions should be seen as a signal he'd continue to break promises or change inconvenient rules when elected. His answer was not reassuring.

"With any innovation," he said, "you'll have some adjustments."

"Adjustments" is one way to say it. Expediency and broken promises is another.

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