PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Rene Gonzalez’s campaign for Portland City Council is facing another penalty fine after an investigation by the City Auditor’s Office into the campaign’s rented office and parking spaces revealed the campaign accepted an unlawful in-kind contribution, according to the auditor’s office.
The City’s Auditor’s Office said it issued a $5,520 civil penalty against Gonzalez’s campaign for allegedly accepting in-kind contributions for six months of parking at his downtown Portland office rented from Schnitzer Property Management.
According to the city, the Election’s Office investigated a complaint against Rene for Portland for accepting “prohibited subsidized rent and parking.”
In a statement, the Auditor’s Office pointed out the office space donation is not a violation of city campaign finance regulations. However, the office determined that the donated parking spaces from May through October were unlawful in-kind donations, officials said.
In a letter to the campaign, the auditor’s office stated “Schnitzer included in its lease with Rene for Portland two parking spots per month at no cost. The Small Donor Elections Program estimated the value of a parking space at $230 per month. The Auditor’s Office therefore finds the monthly amount of subsidized parking by Schnitzer is valued at $460 for two parking spaces.”
The auditor’s office noted the campaign must pay double the amount for the prohibited contributions, reaching the penalty fine of $5,520, because “the candidate and campaign are first-time violators in the current election cycle, the cooperation of the campaign during the course of the City’s investigations, and the amount of any penalties issued in similar circumstances.”
In a statement to KOIN 6 News, a spokesperson for Gonzalez’s campaign said, “we are waiting on the appeal process, and we expect that [clarifies] both matters.”
According to the city, the campaign can request reconsideration of the decision.
The city noted that the auditor’s investigation is “independent from but related to” the Small Donor Elections Program’s investigation into the Rene for Gonzalez campaign.
The elections program recently upheld a penalty against the campaign — resulting in a $77,000 fine.
That fine stems from a letter to the Rene for Portland campaign sent by the Small Donor Elections Program on September 20, which said the campaign was given a 96% discount on a downtown office space and did not report it.
In the initial letter to the campaign, Small Donor Elections Director Susan Mottet stated that the more than 3,000-square-foot office space, which is owned by Portland developer Jordan Schnitzer, is advertised online at nearly $7,000 per month, but the campaign is paying $250 plus utilities. Records with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office show Schnitzer contributed $250 in May 2022 to Gonzalez’s campaign.
The letter went on to state “though campaigns may accept discounts that are available to the general public, a campaign accepting a discount not available to the general public constitutes contribution of the difference between the fair market value and the amount paid.”
In a statement to KOIN 6 News on September 21, a spokesperson for Gonzalez’s campaign defended the lease, saying the campaign “strongly” disagrees about the low price of the rent “given the dismal state of downtown.”
The campaign violation penalties come as Gonzalez will face off against incumbent Jo Ann Hardesty for a Portland City Council seat.