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Washington County DA's race is drawing national attention, and a new PAC has started in Oregon.

       A new political group recently set up in Oregon may be helping fund the race for Washington County's next district attorney.

Records filed with the state show a new political action committee with ties to a New York billionaire were filed with the state last week. The committee, the Oregon Law & Justice PAC, is run by Washington, D.C., political consultant Whitney Tymas.

The committee hasn't recorded any contributions yet, but Tymas was recently profiled by The Oregonian newspaper as looking to bring national attention to Washington County's race for district attorney — an influential elected position that could shape how prosecutors handle criminal cases for years to come.

Tymas, a former prosecutor, has helped fund district attorneys races across the country, promoting reform-minded candidates. Tymas serves as treasurer of a national PAC with ties to liberal billionaire George Soros — an investor and political activist who has helped fund progressive candidates in races across the country for years.

For weeks, headlines have been focused on the usually unassuming race for Washington County's district attorney, where county prosecutor Kevin Barton is running against progressive candidate Max Wall, a former Polk County prosecutor who has said he'd focus more on drug and mental health treatment courts over incarceration.

The two lawyers are racing to replace Bob Hermann, Washington County's longtime district attorney who is retiring after two decades in office.

District attorneys races seldom draw attention, but The Oregonian, Oregon Public Broadcasting and Pamplin Media Group have published accounts of the race after Barton levied claims that so-called dark money and "East Coast politics" had entered the race.

Wall denies rumors

WallBarton, the county's chief deputy district attorney, has claimed that out of state groups have been working with Wall's campaign to get him elected, making public records requests against members of Barton's family and funding political polling. An investigation by The Oregonian last month revealed Tymas had come to Portland earlier this year looking for people willing to run against Barton. Pamplin Media Group spoke with two people who said pollsters have made calls about the race in recent weeks, which neither Barton nor Wall have paid for.

"People have a right to know what's happening," Barton told Pamplin Media Group last month. "It's disingenuous to say you are not accepting money, when you know there is someone working to your benefit."

Wall has denied that outside groups are working with his campaign, saying Barton's claims are a political distraction from more important issues.

Wall told Pamplin Media Group last month he did meet with Tymas before filing for the seat, but said he had planned to run for district attorney before meeting with her.

"I did talk with Whitney as I was making my decision," Wall said. "I talked with dozens of folks, and this was my decision to run. No one elses."

In March, Wall said the rumors of groups working in coordination with his campaign were untrue.

"I haven't been promised dollar one from anyone," Wall told the Washington County Public Affairs Forum in March. "I've seen and heard these rumors and they are not true. My responsibility as DA would be to the voters of Washington County."

Wall's denial raised eyebrows among Barton's supporters, including Wall's former boss, Polk County District Attorney Aaron Felton.

Wall spent years in Polk County, and worked under then new-elected DA Felton as a deputy prosecutor for a year before leaving for private practice. Felton told Pamplin Media Group he received a call from Wall last month seeking an endorsement shortly before he filed for office. Felton said he had already endorsed Barton for district attorney.

"I asked (Wall) how much money he'd raised, and he said he had enough to get started, but then said he was 'waiting to hear from the money people' on Thursday," said Felton.

Weeks later, Felton watched a recording of the Washington County forum.

"It struck me as odd. If he hadn't been promised any money, how is it he was waiting to hear from the money people to talk to him?" Felton said. "I found it interesting."

Wall did not respond to questions about the conversation before this newspaper's press deadline.

Tymas, Soros helped fund several campaigns last year

In recent years, Tymas has worked with committees in several states, spending millions in support of reform-minded district attorney candidates.

In 2016, Soros helped fund more than a dozen district attorney campaigns. Tymas put money toward candidates in eight cities that same year, seven of which won, according to New York Magazine.

Liz Kaufman, Wall's veteran campaign consultant, told Oregon Public Broadcasting last week she believed Tymas' group had paid for political polling into the race.

"They are likely to be the ones involved if there's polling going on on behalf of criminal justice reform," Kaufman said. Oregon Public Broadcasting is a news partner of Pamplin Media Group.

It's unclear how much support Tymas' group will give to Wall's campaign. In a recent investigation by The Oregonian, sources said Soros' committee would focus on other races in other parts of the country.

Tymas has ignored numerous requests by Oregon Public Broadcasting to speak about her interest in the race and in one brief conversation refused to speak on the record.

When OPB asked Wall's campaign about the new committee, it referred comment to the local Safety and Justice PAC, which sent along a statement.

"People and groups in Oregon and around the country are working to elect prosecutors that are responsive to the need for reform of our public safety system," Shannon Wight, the PAC's director, wrote. "The Safety and Justice PAC and the Law & Justice PAC share those values."

Ballots in the May 17 race will be delivered to Washington County voters later this month.

Oregon Public Broadcasting is a news partnet of Pamplin Media Group

By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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