PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland City Auditor has reversed its determination that Rene Gonzalez’s city council campaign violated campaign finance limits by accepting a subsidized monthly rent for office space and parking spots in Portland owned by campaign supporter and real estate mogul Jordan Schnitzer.
The announcement comes a month after Oregon administrative law Judge Joe L. Allen revoked a $77,000 fine the city issued against Gonzalez’ campaign, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
In his 18-page opinion, Allen wrote that the deeply discounted office space did not surpass the fair market value of the property and therefore did not qualify as an unreported campaign contribution.
The city must pay tens of thousands of dollars it withheld from Gonzalez, who beat out incumbent Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty in the November city council race.
The auditor’s office said in a statement Wednesday that Allen’s decision impacted their determination, saying “the evidence no longer supported allegations of prohibited contributions.”
Gonzalez’s campaign was hit with the fines after Portland’s Small Donor Elections program and the auditor’s office investigated complaints into Gonzalez’s acceptance of subsidized rent for the downtown office space.
In September, Small Donor Elections program director Susan Mottet alleged that the fair market value of the office and pair of parking spaces was about $6,900 per month – amounting to an unreported discount of about 96%. Mottet claimed it was an illegal in-kind contribution under the city’s public campaign finance program, and ordered Gonzales to pay a fine totaling $77,140. She also later froze about $71,000 in public matching funds for which Gonzalez had already qualified.
The auditor’s office then fined Gonzalez’s campaign $5,520 after determining the six months of subsidized parking spaces qualified as prohibited in-kind contributions.
The Gonzalez campaign appealed, saying the city’s estimate for fair market rental rates was grossly exaggerated.