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Poll Position

by Amy J. Ruiz

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City Auditor Gary Blackmer let mayoral candidate Sho Dozono off the hook last week, for an extensive poll conducted last December that was a secret until last week. Dozono says he doesn't know who commissioned the poll or paid for it, but he got a peek at the results back in December. According to sources familiar with the poll's questions, it likely cost between $15,000 and $30,000.

The problem is, publicly financed candidates for mayor—like Dozono—have a $12,000 cap on in-kind contributions. If they exceed it, they risk losing public funds. The poll, which Dozono's camp hasn't reported to the state elections division yet (a complaint was filed over that issue on February 11), appears to be an in-kind contribution under state law. But according to Blackmer, even if Dozono were to report it tomorrow, "The poll is not likely to threaten Dozono's qualification for public campaign finance funds."

Hmm.

According to Blackmer, the question isn't how much the poll cost, or whether Dozono's campaign reported it. Rather, Blackmer says Dozono wasn't a candidate under the city's rules until he filed a declaration of intent to participate in public financing, on January 7—after the poll was conducted—so the in-kind cap rules don't apply.

"The campaign finance fund code does not apply until a person becomes a candidate," Blackmer wrote in a February 6 press release, "which is defined as 'an individual whose name is or is expected to be printed on the official ballot.'"

Now, I'm not lawyer. But the city code regarding public financed campaigns is clear to me: There's a $12,000 cap on in-kind contributions for mayoral candidates, period—the code doesn't say the cap kicks in after a candidate signs a declaration of intent.

According to the code—bear with me— "a candidate shall not accept contributions, except for... in-kind contributions as described in Section 2.10.050 during the applicable qualifying period." Section 2.10.050 outlines the $12K cap. And "qualifying period" is simply defined as the period "beginning on the first business day of July of the primary election period." For this election, that period started on July 13—well before the poll was conducted.

But even if Blackmer is stuck on the word "candidate" in that piece of the code, there's a case to be made that the poll has ongoing value to Dozono now that he is a mayoral candidate. Dozono may have handed the results back to the mystery poll buyer, but he didn't unlearn what it said—like which messages might help his campaign. (Blackmer, who hasn't seen the poll, maintains that it was "exploratory," a point that doesn't diminish its value under state law.) Indeed, state law says polls have value for 180 days before an election.

"Valid questions have been raised about a poll, and the value of polls need to be reported," says Janice Thompson with Democracy Reform Oregon. "These concerns merit further attention."

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