Complaint: Two restaurateurs feel 'misled and used' by no campaign on Clean Energy Fund
Two Portland restaurateurs who aren't fluent in English now say they were tricked into opposing Measure 26-201, according to a new Portland Clean Energy Initiative complaint to the Oregon Secretary of State.
"Simply put, they felt misled and used," reads the complaint filed Oct. 25.
Eva Liu, the owner of Kings Omelets Restaurant in the Gateway neighborhood, and Harry Lal, a manager of the Spice Kitchen on 82nd Avenue and Division Street, both told the yes campaign they thought they were signing a statement in opposition to a tax on groceries and beverages. Both restauranteurs reversed their position after yes campaigners explained the measure in their native languages.
Before Nov. 6, voters across the state will decide on Ballot Measure 103, which would proactively forbid taxes on groceries (there are no sales taxes in Oregon). Last year, there was also a soda tax campaign. But the Clean Energy Initiative is a Portland-wide measure that would create a 1 percent surcharge on large corporations' Portland revenues for things like green jobs and home retrofits. The new tax excludes groceries.
The Keep Portland Affordable campaign says the tax will have ripple effects that will make everything more expensive; the yes campaign says it will be a negligible expense largely absorbed by big national retailers.
Whomever other voters believe on the merits of Measure 26-201, it is now clear that Liu and Lal side with the yes campaign. This week they both sent letters, prepared by the clean energy folks, asking Keep Portland Affordable to take down their pictures and statements. Their photos and quotes had been taken off the website by Friday, but Liu's quote was still visible in a paid editorial.
A quote attributed to Liu was also used in the Voters' Pamphlet. After seeing Liu's name in an email from the campaign, Carol Chan, a campaign supporter through Living Cully, said she went to talk to her as they had met once before. Chan discovered Liu didn't understand what she had opposed nor that she would be used in campaign materials. On a second visit, Chan brought a Mandarin-speaking friend and campaign literature in Liu's native language.
"She was just shocked that her photo was on this webpage and she was very shocked that she was in the Voters' Pamphlet," Chan said, adding that when Liu saw the statement attributed to her she said: "Well, my English is not that good. I don't think I would write that."
After the Yes for Portland Clean Energy PAC got wind of Liu's reversal, they asked the Coalition of Communities of Color, a campaign supporter, to reach out to Lal, the other small business owner on the Keep Portland Affordable website.
After a conversation in his native Hindi, Lal, too, reversed his position.
The yes campaign's elections division complaint argues the no campaign violated state laws against false publications and failed to get proper consent. In the letter penned by attorney Margaret Olney of the law firm Bennett, Hartman, Morris & Kaplan, the proponents of M 26-201 say they aren't filing the complaint over standard political tactics or a simple misunderstanding.
"… a line is crossed when a campaign misleads individuals who do not speak English well into lending their name to the campaign by failing to accurately describe or identify the measure. That is what occurred here," Olney wrote.
The Keep Portland Affordable campaign sent copies of the statements that Liu and Lal signed. Liu signed a form Sept. 10 agreeing to post an argument opposing the measure in the Voters' Pamphlet. Lal's quote is undated but a campaign spokesman said it was secured in July.
The campaign also released a statement regarding the complaint, which reads in full:
"We reject the assertions in this frivolous complaint. While we have honored the request from both individuals to be removed from the Keep Portland Affordable website, both had signed their name to the statements published and clearly understood that small businesses and low income families least able to afford this new tax will bear much of the measure's costs. Representatives of the campaign had multiples contacts with each individual, which included them posing for a photo. What's undisputed is that Measure 26-201 will cost Portland families an average of $166 a year."
Debra Royal, chief of staff for the secretary of state, said her office is receiving numerous complaints of elections law violations and was unsure if this one had made it to their desk yet.
"Unless it is immediately determined to have no merit," Royal added, "it is unlikely an investigation would be completed prior to the election."
It is unclear what sort of penalties could result if Keep Portland Affordable is found to have violated the law.
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