The campaign finance reporting of Citizens for Responsible Waterfront Development has been called into question by the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.
At issue is an “in-kind” contribution valued at $2,000 credited to a reporter for the Hood River News, and filed with City Recorder Jean Hadley by CRWD on Dec. 4.
In-kind contributions are non-cash gifts in the form of services. However, the Secretary of State’s office does not consider the use of news articles as in-kind contributions.
Cory Roeseler, chief petitioner for CRWD, listed Hood River News articles written by reporter RaeLynn Ricarte in the “whole month of October” as in-kind donations, without Ricarte’s knowledge. Hadley said in-kind contributors need to be working as an agent of the group and provide an invoice; neither case applies with regard to Ricarte.
CRWD was one of several subjects in a number of articles relating to the Measure 14-16 waterfront proposal, which passed on the Nov. 4 county ballot.
Ricarte and the Hood River News filed a complaint on Dec. 5, stating that articles on the waterfront issue “are not a means of furthering the political agenda of any one party,” and asking that the Secretary of State’s office investigate the incident.
Ricarte’s is the second complaint filed with the state Elections Division against CRWD since October. The Results Through Representative Government previously asked the state to investigate “illegal” finance reporting practices by the CRWD.
Roeseler wrote a letter to the editor of this newspaper on Dec. 6 (see page A4) praising Ricarte for “fair and thorough press coverage.”
Roeseler defended the Hood River News’ listing, saying, “We chose to acknowledge all contributors to the campaign.” He added, though, that the group would remove the contribution from the list.
Roeseler said he interpreted the regulation as saying that the political group “does not need to report” newspaper coverage as in-kind contributions, but chose to do so.
Nancy Ferry, compliance specialist with the Secretary of State’s elections division, mailed Roeseler a letter Tuesday, asking him to explain why he listed Ricarte as an in-kind contributor.
“He did not list any in-kind purpose, which is a requirement,” Ferry said.
Moreover, according to Ferry, political committees are informed that newspaper articles are not generally eligible as in-kind contribution.
“It does say in the campaign finance manual that news stories reported by newspapers, commentaries and editorials are not considered contributions unless the facility is owned by a political committee,” Ferry said.
“I seriously doubt the CRWD owns Hood River News, so I am telling him that is not a valid reason (to list Ricarte),” Ferry said. “I can’t think of any other.”
“We strongly protest what CRWD has done,” said Hood River News publisher Tom Lanctot. “We also appreciate the prompt response by the Secretary of State’s office. This false report must be investigated, to put aside any misconceptions about this newspaper as an objective newspaper of record.”
In a Dec. 8 letter, Ferry asked Roeseler for a “letter of acknowledgement,” which her office will review to determine what action is appropriate. Copies of the letter were sent to Hood River News and the City of Hood River.
“I don’t know what his thoughts are and I guess I need to get his side,” Ferry said.
She added that Ricarte’s complaint is a rare one.
“I haven’t seen one where someone did not want to be listed as an in-kind contributor, and it may very well be that she should (protest),” she said.
Ferry has formally requested that the group account for the “ambiguities” in its records, including a listing of in-kind contributors, such as who paid for yard sign materials and for CRWD’s website. She also wants an explanation for a cash differential of $778 and $1,122 that took place between 1995 to 2003. CRWD has until Dec. 15 to supply that information and could face monetary fines if found guilty of any wrongdoing.