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Mayoral challenger charges incumbent violated limit approved by voters that were not enforced by Portland elections officials because of a court challenge

PMG FILE PHOTO - Campaign reform activists gather signaturea to place their measure on the ballot in 2018.Portland mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone is suing Mayor Ted Wheeler's reelection campaign for violating contribution limits that Portland elections officials are not yet enforcing.

Iannarone and others filed a suit against Wheeler's campaign in Multnomah County Circuit Court for accepting contributions above the $500 limit approved by Portland voters in 2018.

Wheeler's campaign said the timing of the suit is political, and it is without merit.

The City Auditor's Office has not been enforcing the limit because a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge ruled them unconstitutional. The ruling was appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals, where it sat. At the same time, the Oregon Supreme Court considered a similar ruling on the same limit approved by Multnomah County voters in 2016.

The Supreme Court ruled the county limit does not violate the free speech provisions of the Oregon Constitution on Thursday, April 24. It sent the case back to the Multnomah County Circuit Court to determine if the limit violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and whether it is reasonable.

Portland Elections Officer Deborah Scroggin has said her office will begin enforcing the limit in city races on Monday, May 4. Scroggin has also said the limit will not be enforced retroactively.

Wheeler said he would comply with the limit after the Oregon Supreme Court ruling on Friday, April 24.

Iannarone's lawsuit argues Wheeler violated the contribution limits in the City Charter approved by voters in 2016. Among other things, it asks the court to determine that Wheeler's campaign violated the limit 93 times, collected $175,000 in "illegal contributions," and should be fined two to 20 times the amount of each contribution.

"Our position has been unequivocal since entering this race. The people of Portland have spoken, and all candidates must follow the law. Ted Wheeler gambled, betting against his own constituents for the benefit of his political career and his donors, and he lost. There are consequences for illegally stacking the deck against your political opponents. This lawsuit seeks to ensure a level playing field for all, as was the will of the voters," Campaign Director Gregory McKelvey said in a prepared statement before the lawsuit.

Wheeler campaign spokeswoman Lorien Sekora said, "The timing of this is purely political, this has no merit."

Wheeler's campaign has reported raising just over $169,000 this year and a little more than $73,000 last year, for a total of more than $242,000. His largest contributions include $10,000 each from the Local 48 Electricians PAC and the Portland Metropolitan Association Realtors, and $9,000 from the Service Employees International Union Local 49.

Ionnarone is participating in the city's Open & Accountable Elections public campaign financing program. It reports she has raised over $101,000 in small contributions and qualified for a public match of nearly $297,000, for a total of more than $398,000.

Scroggin said the lawsuit is a private matter that the city will not comment on.

You can read the lawsuit here.

You can read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue here.

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