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Republicans consultants in Oregon file campaign finance complaints against PAC targeting GOP senators for walking out

Republican Oregon GOP senators have filed a campaign finance complaint tied to the Republican-led walkout. Senators prepare for their floor session on May 9, 2023.
Ben Botkin
Oregon Capital Chronicle
Republican Oregon GOP senators have filed legal challenges tied to the Republican-led walkout. Senators prepare for their floor session on May 9, 2023.

At least two Republican political consultants have filed campaign finance complaints against a liberal political action committee running radio ads asking Oregonians to tell their Republican senators to return to work.

A political action committee formed last fall by the president of the public employee union that represents state employees, paid nearly $17,000 for radio ads targeting four of the 10 Republican senators participating in a quorum-denying walkout that has prevented the Senate from passing bills for more than three weeks, state campaign finance records and records from the Federal Communications Commission show.

Hold Politicians Accountable’s ads ran from May 20 to May 22 in Bend, Eugene, La Grande, Lebanon, Tillamook and Warrenton, according to FCC data. They targeted Republican Sens. Tim Knopp of Bend, Lynn Findley of Vale, Cedric Hayden of Fall Creek and Suzanne Weber of Tillamook.

All four have participated in the walkout, and Knopp and Weber represent districts Democrats hope to pick up in 2024 or 2026.

The ads run about a minute long and describe how the Senate GOP walkout has blocked the Legislature from passing bills on affordable housing, drought and wildfire protection and overdose prevention. At the end, an announcer reads the senator’s legislative phone number and asks listeners to tell them to get back to work.

The radio ads, like anti-Democrat mailers and ads from a shadowy group that popped up during last year’s election and have continued through this legislative session, appear to operate in a gray area in state campaign finance laws. State law requires that any “communication in support of or in opposition to a clearly identified candidate by a political committee” must include the name of a political committee and its five biggest donors, and a state election rule based on that ad requires political action committees to include their numerical ID in those disclosures.

But none of the Republican senators targeted by the ads are candidates – and it’s an open question whether they’ll be allowed to file as candidates for upcoming elections because they’ve run afoul of a law voters approved last fall to block lawmakers with 10 or more unexcused absences from serving another term.

Bryan Iverson, director of the Senate GOP’s political action committee and a separate committee fundraising for the senators participating in the walkout, filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s Office on Wednesday over the PAC not including a numerical ID on ads running in Bend. Iverson is also married to House Minority Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville.

Eugene-based political consultant Jake Pelroy filed a second complaint Friday, including audio from ads targeting Knopp and Hayden. The ads include disclosures that Hold Politicians Accountable paid for them, but they don’t include the committee’s numerical ID.

The PAC’s controlled by Service Employees International Union 503. Communications Director Pati Urias told the Capital Chronicle by email that the complaint was a non-issue because the ads clearly state that Hold Politicians Accountable paid for them.

“And these are not campaign expenditures, thus not a violation of campaign finance laws,” Urias added.

The committee formed in October 2022 under the name “Meet Christine Drazan” and received nearly $950,000 from unions, the Democratic Governors Association and then-candidate-for-governor Tina Kotek. It rebranded as “Hold Politicians Accountable” later in the fall and spent nearly $550,000 attacking Drazan, the Republican candidate for governor.

The Oregon Capital Chronicle is a professional, nonprofit news organization. We are an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Capital Chronicle retains full editorial independence, meaning decisions about news and coverage are made by Oregonians for Oregonians.

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. Julia is an award-winning journalist who reported on the tangled efforts to audit the 2020 presidential election results in Arizona.