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The Portland City Council challenger says his campaign was blindsided by changed complaint, lack of opportunity to respond.

COURTESY PHOTO: RENE FOR PORTLAND - Portland City Council canddiate Rene Gonzalez. Portland City Council candidate Rene Gonzalez has requested Portland's small donors election program reconsider the $77,000 fine it has imposed on the campaign for violating the limit on in-kind contributions.

The program that provides public matching funds for contributions of no more than $250 fined the campaign for paying $250 a month for downtown office space it said has a market rate of $6,900. Gonzalez filed a 10-page request for reconsideration on Tuesday, Sept. 27, arguing the space actually has no value because landlord Jordan Schnitzer has been unable to rent it for two years.

Schnitzer, a prominent Portland developer, agrees and said he would offer similar discounts to anyone for other vacant properties he owns downtown because of ongoing problems there. Underscoring that, Gonzalez campaign manager Shah Smith said the campaign office was burglarized over the weekend and vandalized early Tuesday.

"In fact, Multnomah County, through the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, has leased approximately 1400 square feet at 928 SW Harvey Milk for $0 per month in rent and $476 per month in expenses. This includes a parking space at no additional cost and is terminable on thirty days' notice (if the landlord is able to find another tenant). Upon solid information and belief, there are other leases like this one as well, either already executed or at least under active consideration," the request said.

Gonzalez also said he was blindsided by the fine and not given a chance to respond before it was imposed. According to the Gonzalez campaign, elections program director Susan Mottet originally said she had received a complaint that the rent had not been reported in a timely manner. Smith said they thought they had resolved the issue by providing additional information, but was then hit with record-high fine for violating the in-kind contribution limit they had not been notified of.

The campaign said Oregon election law allows campaign to "cure" such problems before fines are imposed.

The campaign also said new coverage of the fine has hurt the Gonzalez campaign late in his race against incumbent Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.

The city program has several days to consider the request. If it does not withdraw the fine, Gonzalez can appeal it the courts, although the issue likely will not be resolved much before the Nov. 8 general election.

Gonzalez also accused of being biased against him when imposing the fine by stating, "When you violate the prohibition on large contributions and accept a contribution of $33,000, that goes against the point of the program to ensure our democracy is strong and healthy and accountable to the people."

"So much for unbiased decision-making, another hallmark of a supposedly strong and healthy democracy," the request for reconsideration said.

An addendum supporting the request can be found here.

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