Secretary of State Shemia Fagan Poised to Delay Campaign Finance Measures on Technicality

Secretary of State Shemia Fagan is raising hurdles for campaign activists who want to regulate campaign contributions in Oregon, one of five states with no limits.

Honest Elections Oregon, an advocacy group that won limits on contributions in Multnomah County and Portland, is trying to extend its streak and curb big money statewide. He is sponsoring three similar ballot initiatives — 43, 44 and 45 — that would cap contributions to candidates for statewide office at $2,000 from individuals and $20,000 from member organizations such as labor unions, between other limits.

The group’s efforts hit a snag this week when Fagan’s chief legal counsel, PK Runkles-Pearson, wrote to Honest Elections organizers Jason Kafoury and Dan Meek and told them that Fagan planned to reject the initiatives’ language. because they did not include the full text of the Oregon laws they would change. A final decision from Fagan is expected on February 9, according to his office.

Kafoury says Fagan’s decision is not supported by precedent or practice and will prevent the measures from making it to the ballot this year. Honest Elections Oregon must collect 112,020 signatures by July 8 to qualify the measures.

If they are forced to resubmit the language, there is no way they can get the signatures in time because of the long list of preliminary steps needed to get a measure on the ballot, Kafoury says. These include: collecting 1,000 “sponsorship signatures,” which Honest Oregon has done and should repeat; get those certified; acquiring a new voting credential from the Oregon Attorney General; and get feedback on this title.

“It’s a death knell for us,” Kafoury said.

Ben Morris, a spokesman for Fagan, said the law is clear about including the full text of laws that would be changed. “It’s a pretty simple situation,” he said. “They just need to correct a technical error in a file. We have applied this standard consistently.

The flaw cited by Fagan was pointed out during a public comment period on the petitions by Michael Selvaggio, a lobbyist for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555.

“The constitution requires initiative petitions to include the full text of the proposed measure,” Selvaggio wrote on UFCW letterhead Jan. 19. “See Oregon Constitution, Article IV, Section 1(2)(d). Draft IP-43 does not comply with this requirement.

The initiatives would limit campaign spending by UFCW and other unions. Such expenses bolstered Fagan’s rise to the position of overseer of the elections in Oregon.

The UFCW gave Fagan $50,000 when she ran for secretary of state in 2020, according to campaign finance records. She was the top recipient of union contributions during the campaign, winning endorsements from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Oregon AFL-CIO. Fagan raised more than $3 million for the race, much of it coming from unions.

Morris said UFCW’s public comments had no bearing on Fagan’s handling of Honest Elections Oregon’s ballot metrics. “Every initiative filed goes through the same review process,” he said. “It has nothing to do with outside bands.”

Runkles-Pearson wrote to Meek and Kafoury on February 3, saying that Fagan would soon be rejecting the petitions and describing a conversation they had earlier in the day as “a courtesy call to inform the main petitioners and give them the opportunity to withdraw and file again before the motion is formally dismissed.

Kafoury and Meek told Runkles-Pearson they had no plans to withdraw the ballot measures. They asked the secretary of state’s office to defer a final decision on them and to review a legal memo they sent to the office on Feb. 4 outlining their legal position. The secretary of state has approved initiative petitions in this election cycle that do not replicate relevant sections of Oregon law, they say in the memo.

“This is a very typical delaying tactic for people who don’t want things on the ballot,” Kafoury said in an interview. “They file voting title challenges, and then they file an appeal to the state Supreme Court, and it takes a few months for the court to rule. It smacks of selective enforcement to me, and it reeks of political cronyism.

Morris, Fagan’s spokesman, said Fagan planned to forward Kafoury’s legal memo to the Oregon Department of Justice for review.

The fight with Honest Elections Oregon is Fagan’s second high-profile run-in on election issues. On Jan. 6, she ruled that New York Times columnist and Yamhill, Oregon native Nicholas Kristof did not meet the state’s three-year residency requirement to run for governor.

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