PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Portland City Council candidate Rene Gonzalez’s appeal against a $77,000 campaign violation penalty has been rejected by the city’s Small Donor Elections program.
The fine stems from a letter to the Rene for Portland campaign sent by the Small Donor Elections program on September 20, saying the campaign was given a 96% discount on a downtown office space and did not report it.
On Thursday, the elections program sent a letter to Gonzalez rejecting his appeal after he argued the discounted office space did not violate the city’s campaign finance rules.
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, accepting a discount that is not 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.”
In Thursday’s rejection of the appeal, Mottet said “with no evidence of discounts on the rent owed being available to members of the general public renting for less than one year, with comparable office spaces charging a similar amount per square foot, and with parking alone costing more than the total rent for the space and two parking spaces, the City maintains the amount of the contribution is the difference between the advertised $6,900 rent and the $250 rent the campaign is paying.”
According to Mottet, the campaign also argued “the property owner would be willing to accept the same deal with other campaigns and nonprofits, the arrangement with the Rene for Portland campaign is not an in-kind contribution, and instead the fair market value of the space.”
Citing KOIN 6 News’ reporting, the elections program added “on September 21, 2022, the day after the penalty letter was sent to the Rene for Portland campaign, he commented to KOIN6 News, ‘I would have done the same thing for any other candidate that I would think of supporting or for any nonprofit.’ When asked about the campaign’s failure to report it as an in-kind contribution, Mr. Schnitzer said, ‘As to what he should or shouldn’t have reported, I don’t have any knowledge as to what political reporting is on in-kind gifts like that.'”
The elections program added, “if the space was not available to members of the general public for that rate, it is a contribution to the Rene for Portland campaign.” Mottet further argued “the fair market value is not determined by the willingness of the property owner to make a gift of some or all of the value of the space to another person or entity.”
The Gonzalez campaign can still appeal the rejection of their appeal.
KOIN 6 News reached out to Gonzalez’s campaign and has not heard back.