Money can play curious roles in politics. But Oregon law is very clear when it comes to using political donations to a Political Action Committee (PAC). It prohibits use of that money as a personal slush fund by a candidate.
Yet that is exactly what former Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith has done. We've fully documented the facts in a complaint filed in February with the Oregon Secretary of State. The violations exceed $3,000. That money should have come from her own pocket.
Shortly after she lost her unsuccessful re-election bid in 2016, she chose to change her public persona by becoming a motivational speaker. So she turned to the PAC account funds to pay for training. That's against the law. PAC money is only for political use, according to Oregon statutes.
Our official complaint cites several examples of how Ms. Smith broke the law misusing PAC money when she was neither in office nor a candidate. Specifically:
-- Paying a membership fee of $1,697 in January 2017 to the National Speakers Association with campaign funds after leaving office. To accept speaking fees while in office is against the law so she waited until she lost the election.
--Paying $1,125 with PAC money for speaking, consulting and training after leaving office with the stated goal of starting a new career with campaign funds.
-- Paying $120 for website expenses with campaign funds after leaving office to promote and advertise her professional speaking and consulting services.
--Using campaign funds to build another website linking to sales of her book.
--Using PAC money in 2019 for a $170 membership in the West Linn Chamber of Commerce to promote herself as an author, not as a candidate.
The law, ORS 260.407, specifically prohibits using PAC funds for any personal use other than to defray any expenses incurred in connection with the person's duties as a holder of public office or to repay to a candidate any loan the proceeds of which were used in connection with the candidate's campaign. She was neither in office nor a candidate when the most egregious activities occurred.
Tootie Smith is now challenging County Chair Jim Bernard in the May election. Last year she reinvigorated her PAC, implying her candidacy will benefit from any proceeds.
What does the Secretary of State's office have to say? Acknowledging they have received the formal complaint and full documentation, a total of 48 pages, the Elections Division will only say, "It's under investigation." And, in a new policy under Republican Bev Clarno, "we don't comment on complaints until the investigation is over."
After four years in the Oregon Legislature (2001-2005) and another four (2013–2017) as county commissioner, one would like to think that Ms. Smith would know the law and uphold it.
Oregonians have come to expect their elected officials to act lawfully. That is especially true at the local/county level where scrutiny is much more public and knowledgeable.
In this case, Ms. Smith has certainly pushed the envelope. She is challenging the public trust and should be held to account, as should any elected official who uses their legal political money for illegal self-dealing and self-aggrandizement.
Sherry Healy, a resident of Clackamas County, submitted a formal complaint against Tootie Smith to the secretary of state in February.
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