PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The $77K fine Rene Gonzalez’s campaign for Portland City Council was facing over discounted office space was revoked Thursday by a judge.

The penalty, issued in September, came when city officials learned the Rene for Portland Campaign was given a 96% discount on a downtown office space and didn’t report it.

The ruling comes hours before Gonzalez faces incumbent Jo Ann Hardesty in a debate in KOIN 6 News’ studio in downtown Portland.

According to the original letter, this discount violated the rules of the Small Donor Elections program, which Gonzalez is a part of.

The letter alleged that Gonzalez’s campaign was using the more than 3,000-square-foot space, which is listed online for $7,000 a month, and only paying $250 plus utilities for the space.

The judge’s ruling, filed Thursday, found that the City of Portland Elections Division was unable to carry the burden of proof in this case and so the penalty was revoked.

The court documents said that the original penalty failed to take into account a number of details about Gonzalez’s campaign using the space.

This included the fact that the owner of the space had listed the property at the same rate for over two years and the fact that Rene’s campaign was paying more than the $250 per month agreement, due to utilities, janitorial fees, and repairs for the entire almost 3,200 square feet, even though they were only using between 300 and 500 square feet.

In a statement to the Portland Tribune, KOIN 6 News’ media partner, the Portland Elections Commission chair that oversees the Small Donor Program said they were “stunned by this decision.”

“This ruling creates a loophole for donors to give enormous in-kind contributions, rendering useless the contribution limits in the program and penalizing those who play fair,” Amy Sample Ward said in a statement. “In issuing the penalty, the Small Donor Elections Director followed the law which requires the use [sic] objective evidence when determining whether a candidate accepted an illegal contribution. This ruling overturns the city’s use of objective evidence. If the City were to follow this ruling, it would be impossible to enforce the law evenly and consistently, and would make enforcement of our election laws vulnerable to political bias.”

Hardesty’s campaign also released a statement to the Tribune expressing dismay over the revoked fine.

“It’s difficult to fathom this decision given we have Jordan Schnitzer, the landlord, Rene donor, on the record stating that he offered the discount exclusively to a candidate he supports. This is the first time an administrative law judge has heard a case on the city’s nascent Small Donor Elections program and it sets a tone for undermining Portland voters’ will to get big money out of politics.” campaign director Joseph Santos-Lyons said in a statement.

Gonzalez’s campaign told the Tribune it was “pleased with the decision” made by the judge, but added, “the damage to the campaign has been done. We look forward to receiving the $71,000 the program has withheld as a preemptive enforcement action and putting it to work in the short time we have left.”