A Hood River citizen group and a public agency have been accused of violating state election laws.
On Monday an investigation was launched after two formal complaints were filed by the Results Through Representative Government with Secretary of State Bill Bradbury’s office. RTRG is seeking an answer on the following two issues:
The financial disclosure statements turned in last week by Citizens for Responsible Waterfront Development.
Crystal Springs Water District’s use of public funds and resources to print a column in its newsletter about a pending ballot measure.
“In each case we have to get all of the facts gathered before we can make a determination,” said Norma Buckno, compliance specialist from the state Elections Division.
She said the official investigation into two separate complaints will probably not be completed by the Nov. 4 general election.
But Felix Tomlinson, RTRG co-founder, said the group did not just file the complaints to gain ground in the pending election. He said RTRG formed to ensure that statutory processes were followed by political groups and government agencies alike.
“This is serious business, the election laws are there to protect all of the people and keep things fair, everyone has to follow the rules,” Tomlinson said.
He and Percy Jensen, an RTRG board member, are asking the state to review CRWD’s “incomplete” financial summary that was submitted last Friday, one day after the official deadline. Although CRWD did not originally address where the sole listed expenditure of $199 took place, the group later amended their report to outline that it was paid to Morin Printing in The Dalles. However, RTRG contends that information is either “erroneous or fraudulent” since there is no listing of other recent advertisements posted by CRWD. In addition, RTRG wants an explanation for a cash balance differential from $778 in 1995 to $1,122 in 2003. CRWD has reported one contribution of $750 this fall from a couple in Chicago, Ill.
“I’m informed that Mr. Jensen and Mr. Tomlinson saw fit to drive to Salem to file a complaint. They want to know how the CRWD account swelled from $778 to $1,122 in eight years. The last time the port tried to place a large building on the waterfront, in 1998, donations started trickling in to CRWD. The total was around $500, and we spent nearly half of that on postage,” said Corey Roeseler, CRWD treasurer, in a written statement.
“Recently, I missed a deadline on the first filing period by a month, although there were no transactions to report during that period. I missed the second deadline by 16 hours. That was for one contribution and one expenditure. Today, CRWD is current on all current election reports. We are missing several annual reports, and we share the blame with Hood River County. The elections officer forgot to notify CRWD of the annual filing per ORS section 260.205,” he wrote.
Oregon Campaign Finance Manager Fred Neal said financial penalties for reporting violations begin with one percent per day on the greater balance of contributions or expenditures. The second violation raises that limit to three percent.
Other penalties are also applied for failure to provide supplemental reports of single contributors of $500 or more and expenditures of $1,000 of higher to any single source. A post-election wrap-up report is also due on Dec. 4.
RTRG has also taken issue with the September edition of the Crystal Springs Water District’s newsletter, “The Water Connection,” that is sent out with monthly bills. Tomlinson said the front page bulletin gave “one-sided” support for Measure 14-15, which seeks to give voters the final word on approval of housing applications for 25 or more units within a forest zone.
In the newsletter, readers were briefed about the signature gathering drive undertaken by the Let the People Decide political action committee, which sponsored the measure. It also quotes one of its chief petitioners about the positive benefits of the proposal and explains what passage would accomplish for water resource protection.
The News could not obtain comments from Crystal Springs officials despite four separate phone calls Monday and Tuesday.
Buckno said that public employees are not allowed to use their work time or supplies to promote a political agenda.
“A piece about a measure has to be somewhat balanced and the overall tone has to be pretty neutral,” said Buckno. “The problem with this kind of thing is that when a newsletter goes out it can give the agency access that the opposing side doesn’t have.”
She said the civil penalty of $250 for violations of that rule would not be levied against the district but against the individual responsible for the violation.
“In either of these cases, if violations are found the affected parties do have the right to a hearing,” said Buckno.
CRWD is campaigning for Measure 14-16 which seeks to have the City of Hood River institute a policy that preserves a large sector of the waterfront for a public park. RTRG was formed in opposition to both the CRWD and LPD measures, claiming they circumvent the state statutory zoning processes and are not legally enforceable.