Breaking News
More () »

TEDxPortland has learned its lesson after controversial Betsy Johnson interview, Oregon DOJ official says

In response to complaints about the nonprofit's surprise talk with Johnson, an investigator said TEDxPortland "will avoid all such activity into the future."
Credit: Evan Watson (KGW)
Oregon gubernatorial candidate Betsy Johnson speaks to a crowd at TEDxPortland

PORTLAND, Ore. — An Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) investigator says TEDxPortland has promised to avoid "issues surrounding political activity" in the future following a controversial on-stage interview with Oregon gubernatorial candidate Betsy Johnson in May.

In response to one of the complaints submitted following the event, Douglas Pearson, chief investigator for the Charitable Activities Section, said the Oregon DOJ has "been contacted by [TEDxPortland's] legal counsel who has advised us that the organization has been better educated about the issues surrounding political activity and will avoid all such activity into the future."

At its event at the Moda Center on May 28 in front of thousands of attendees, TEDxPortland added an unannounced talk with Johnson to its speaker lineup.

During the on-stage interview, members of the crowd yelled and criticized Johnson for her views on gun laws, in the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

Others criticized TEDxPortland for seemingly making the upbeat event political, with one person yelling: "It's not a campaign, it's a TED talk."

RELATED: TEDxPortland apologizes for unannounced Betsy Johnson interview

TEDxPortland later apologized for the interview, saying: "Having a potential political candidate for public office on our stage this morning was not the right decision. We apologize for the error in judgment and the distraction this moment created..."

The Oregon DOJ said it received seven complaints after the TEDxPortland event and it directed individuals to the IRS complaint portal.

The nonprofit could be in violation of federal rules that state nonprofits must give equal opportunity for all political candidates to speak if one is invited to talk at an event.

One complainant said TEDxPortland attendees "unwittingly financed a political commercial for [Johnson]."

In response, Pearson wrote: "The issue of charitable nonprofits engaging in political activity is primarily under the purview of the IRS as they are the agency who bestows and regulates the tax exempt status of nonprofit organizations."

IRS rules state that nonprofits are "absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office."

The IRS also says nonprofits could lose tax-exempt status or face fines if they violate this prohibition. 

The IRS has not responded to KGW's requests for information about these complaints and if the IRS is investigating the incident.

RELATED: How can poll results for the Oregon governor's race be so different?

Before You Leave, Check This Out