This story has been updated from its original version.
Lake Oswego City Council and mayoral candidates have collectively raised more than $179,400 in campaign cash contributions as of Oct. 5. The three mayoral candidates — Theresa Kohlhoff, Joe Buck and John LaMotte — raked in just above $122,000.
With just about a month until the November election, City Council and mayoral candidates have been spreading their names and messages throughout the community by means of direct mail, digital and print advertising, social media and lawn signs.
"I think, on one hand, it is unfortunate how much money we now have to raise to conduct even a local race," said mayoral candidate Buck. "It seems like it wasn't that long ago that races were run for less than $10,000, and now it's in the tens of thousands of dollars, even in the upper tens of thousands of dollars, to even run a City Council race."
It takes a lot of time, money and effort to run a successful campaign for public office at any level. But it does speak to the competitiveness of a race that features a diverse slate of candidates — and the pressure to enact positive change in today's climate.
Oregon is one of the few states where campaign finance law allows unlimited contributions to political candidates. The state requires those contributions to be cataloged and available for the public to view through ORESTAR — the online filing system maintained by the secretary of state's office.
And according to ORESTAR, candidates for the Lake Oswego City Council had received contributions from individuals, businesses and political action committees ranging from less than $10 to $10,000 as of Oct. 5.
LaMotte raised the most cash contributions by a landslide, bringing in just over $59,300 as of Oct. 5. He received several contributions at or exceeding $1,000, including one significant contribution of $10,000 from Karl Miller, who he said is a friend.
Many of his significant contributions came from developers.
Roughly 10 people associated with Renaissance Homes — a local development company in Lake Oswego — contributed a total of more than $16,000 to LaMotte's campaign.
"I think they like the fact (that) I'm a city planner and I'm very pragmatic," LaMotte said.
LaMotte said there is no influence peddling involved in the contributions, as he has both agreed and disagreed with homebuilders during his time on the council.
Ezra Hammer, vice president of policy and government affairs for the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland, said they are in the process of interviewing Lake Oswego candidates and will then decide internally whether to endorse or support anyone financially in the coming weeks.
"We support pro-housing candidates, and a pro-housing candidate is someone who is supportive of policies that allow for the creation of needed housing in all of its varied forms," Hammer said.
Ultimately, LaMotte said it's not about influence.
"It's about doing the right thing," he said, adding that if developers are contributing to his campaign they still have to go through city processes in terms of development so there is no favoritism happening.
Randy Sebastian, president of Renaissance Homes, said LaMotte is fair when it comes to developers building homes in the city.
"John LaMotte is clearly the best candidate for mayor of Lake Oswego, and the other two candidates will stop homeowners who have property, who want to remodel their home, want to make an addition to the home. Or, if the home is old and needs to be replaced, they will stop that if there are any trees that have to be cut," Sebastian said. "It will definitely not be good for the city because old homes won't be replaced with new homes. We also plant trees when we do build new."
Sebastian said someone who supported Buck's campaign asked for his support prior to his contribution to LaMotte, but he declined (representatives from the Buck campaign said they were unaware that this person reached out to Sebastian and that she was not doing so on behalf of the campaign). A Sept. 1 fundraising newsletter sent out from Friends of Joe Buck Sept. 1 was sharply critical of LaMotte's fundraising.
"Top executives at Renaissance Homes — one of the biggest tear down developers in Lake Oswego — have funneled a combined $12,000 in donations to John LaMotte's campaign, which accounts for a third of his total campaign contributions," the email read. "Renaissance Homes is one of the biggest residential tree cutters in LO, and the company regularly comes before the city council when residents oppose their unnecessary removal of significant trees from our neighborhoods. The city council is the final decision maker in those cases, and we need a mayor who will stand up for you, not big developers."
Buck raised $35,123 by early October, with significant contributions coming in from several donors including the Portland Metropolitan Association of Realtors PAC (6165), Local No. 1159 FirePAC (229) and Kurt Schrader for Congress.
"I think that at least the organizations that support me do so because they appreciate the willingness to bring everyone to the table to sit down to listen," said Buck, adding that it doesn't mean they always have to see eye to eye, they just need a willingness to hear others' perspectives. "That's an important part of the process and they definitely want to find people who are aligned with their values, but understanding that ... the process to go through is a communitywide process."
Buck said fundraising is an important topic that voters should pay attention to because the people who donate to candidates are reflective of their values.
"It's been really nice to see people I've never met before in my life making small contributions to the campaign, and I think for me, that really it makes me as a candidate and, hopefully as the next mayor, see it is a wide responsibility to so many different folks and segments of the community," Buck said.
City Council candidate Aaron Rapf, who has raised the most money so far out of the City Council candidates at about $22,730 and received the only contribution from Mayor Kent Studebaker, said that a candidate's donors should represent their values. He's followed by City Council candidate Massene Mboup, who had raised $16,326 as of Oct. 5.
City Council candidate Emma Burke had raised the least out of those with less than $3,000 as of early October. She said the smaller cash contributions she's received speak to her campaign principals about representing all voices in the community "and spending time engaging with the constituents, not dialing for dollars from potential high donors," she said. "It's about resonating with voters and that they like your message and what you represent."
Burke received a cash contribution from the Oregon Firearms Federation PAC and said she returned their donation. While Burke said she believes in the Second Amendment and responsible gun ownership, she was hoping that specific contributions would help bring people together as an opportunity to create a discussion around safer gun legislation, especially relating to domestic violence prevention.
"Unfortunately, I tried to bring some folks together who I don't think will ever be on speaking terms," said Burke, adding that she was hearing from some of her endorsers that they were uncomfortable with that contribution. "(It was a) lack of communication on my part with the intentions initially. … I should have been more proactive in mitigating what obviously did play out. It was too aspirational and bigger than I am."
Four Lake Oswego School Board members — Kirsten Aird, Neelam Gupta, Sara Pocklington and John Wallin — withdrew their support of Burke's campaign after discovering her "relationship" with the Oregon Firearms Federation.
"We endorsed Emma initially because of her strong voice for equity and the district's equity policy enacted in June 2019. We continue to commend her for her work in that effort," the statement read. "However, we cannot support any candidate who has a careless approach to accepting endorsements from organizations like OFF. This is in direct conflict with the LOSD strategic planning around priorities of anti-racism, equity, and health and safety, when we are striving to protect students and staff from gun violence."
Kohlhoff had raised $27,582 as of early October from individuals and organizations or unions including United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 555 and Local No. 1159 FirePAC (229).
Kohlhoff said the world of fundraising and campaigning is quite different this year compared to when she ran for City Council in 2016.
"We didn't rely as much on digital advertising or social media, some of which is inexpensive and some of it turns out to be quite expensive, depending on what you're trying to do," she said. "In the past, you could cut some of your cost by going to the door. … Well you can't really do that in COVID. I mean you can, but some of us are not big on that."
Ultimately, Kohlhoff said it's not about how much money candidates bring in; what matters is how the money is spent and how the message is conceived.
Kohlhoff added that many of her more progressive friends are disgusted with campaign finances, though she's not sure what she thinks about campaign contribution limits.
"I think there does need to be a way of leveling the playing field a little, (because) those people who have great capacity but no connections, no skills yet or whatever, their voices are not going to be heard," Kohlhoff said. "I do think that it ... blocks out the opportunity of young women, for instance, with children who have got a lot on their plates right now. … Those kinds of people I think are definitely damaged by the system, whereas people like myself who are closer to retirement or part-time and we don't have children and we don't have outside responsibilities, particularly like young people do, we can put in a lot of time."
City Council candidates Melissa Fireside and Rachel Verdick agreed.
Fireside said she would like to see campaign races more accessible to women and first-time candidates, for example.
Fireside has had smaller donations trickle in and had raised $8,696 as of Oct. 5.
"As far as unions go, unions have been under attack for a long time, and I feel like we need to have elected officials who value union and labor values," said Fireside, who received a significant contribution from Local No. 1159 FirePAC (229). "I'm honored and feel privileged to be their voice."
Verdick too, was one of the six candidates to receive a significant contribution from the FirePAC.
"I think it's important for candidates when you're working or seeking a contribution or endorsement from let's say a union, the public can look at that union and (see) what do they stand for. … So it's very clear what the intent often is and those are often very public," Verdick said. "As individual candidates, we need to ask ourselves 'Are we OK with that? Are we being influenced by getting a certain amount of money by a certain group?'"
Mark Oelschlager, vice president of the Local No. 1159 FirePAC (229), said the union has a history of being involved with political contributions throughout Oregon.
"When we sit down with each candidate and interview them, we are looking for someone who has an open-door policy, someone who would like to communicate with us when things that come up that affect firefighters," Oelschlager said. "We look out to protect the big five: the wages, hours, working conditions, safety on the job and retirement security. We just push forward for that as we interview candidates. We don't look at anything else but that. We don't try to sway anybody. … We're just looking to have good candidates in elected positions."
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