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A man running for a seat on the Portland City Council has been fined $77,000 for accepting and failing to report a steep discount on campaign office rent.
Since May, Rene Gonzalez’s campaign has paid a paltry $250 a month to rent more than 3,000 square feet in a Portland office building owned by Jordan Schnitzer, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.
Schnitzer is a real estate mogul and philanthropist who has donated the most money allowed by law, $250, to the candidate, according to campaign finance reports.
Susan Mottet, Portland’s Small Donor Elections program director, wrote in a letter to Gonzalez Tuesday that the fair market value of the office, which comes with a two parking spaces, is about $6,900 a month. That amounts to an unreported discount of 96%, one that Mottet claimed is an illegal in-kind contribution under the city’s public campaign finance program.
Both Gonzalez and his opponent, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, are participating in the Small Donor Elections program, a city effort to remove big money from politics.
Under the program rules, candidates receive a 9-to-1 match on the first $20 they receive from a donor. That means a donation of $20 could become $200 with $180 from the city. In return, the candidates agree to restrictions including capping the maximum amount they can take from an individual donor at $250.
They also are not allowed to take in-kind contributions — donations of time, goods, services — from businesses, Mottet said.
So far, Gonzalez has received $370,000 in city money through the program and now has around $175,000 in his campaign coffers, according to campaign finance records.
In a statement, Gonzalez campaign manager Shah Smith said the modest rent was not an in-kind contribution, but rather what anyone looking to rent office space would expect to pay downtown, an area that has struggled to rebound from the pandemic.
“We evaluated (city) rules when we entered into the lease and strongly disagree that the rent is too low given the dismal state of downtown,” he wrote. “Landlords are having to offer substantial amounts of free rent months, secured parking and invest in tenant improvements to get tenants to even consider renting,” he said.
Smith also said the campaign plans to appeal.