This page offers a list of frequently asked questions related to City elections, campaign finance regulations, and political activities by public employees.
This Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page is not legal advice. For exact language and requirements, view the Portland City Code and City Charter. If you do not find the answers to your questions after reviewing the below, please contact email@example.com and we will respond to you as quickly as possible. Our office’s typical response time is within two business days.
Note: If you have questions pertaining to the City's lobbyist or political consultant disclosure programs, click here to be redirected to those programs' frequently asked questions.
General Voting Questions
1. How many registered voters are in the City of Portland?
In Oregon, voter registration is handled by County Elections Offices.
The City Elections Office calculates this figure at every election. At the November 3, 2020 General Election, there were 463,900 registered City of Portland voters.
The majority of Portland is located in Multnomah County, with a small number of voters in Clackamas & Washington Counties. For more recent voter registration numbers than the above contact the County Elections Offices within Portland.
2. How do I contact my elected officials?
Follow the links below for contact information for City, County, State & Federal elected officials:
3. How do I request an absentee ballot?
Absentee ballots are available 45 days before an election. Any registered voter who wishes to have their ballot mailed to an address other than their residence may use the Secretary of State’s Oregon Absentee Ballot Request Form (fillable PDF) and return it to their County Elections Office, update online at My Vote, or request an absentee ballot from their County Elections Office:
4. How does Vote by Mail work?
Your County Elections Office will mail you information on how to vote. For more general information regarding the vote by mail process, read the Secretary of State's Vote By Mail Guide and Voting in Oregon web page. In addition, Multnomah County Elections has educational resources for the vote by mail process.
Questions about your ballot (where to get a ballot, how to get a replacement ballot, where to drop off your ballot, what to do if you forget to sign your ballot, or change your address etc.) are best answered by your County Elections Office:
5. Am I eligible to register to vote?
You can register to vote if you can answer yes to each of the following questions:
→ Are you a resident of Oregon?
→ Are you a US citizen?
→ Are you at least 16 years old?
6. How do I register to vote?
You may register to vote online or by downloading the registration form and sending it to your County Elections Office. You may also register at in person at your County Elections Office, the office of the Secretary of State, or any Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) office.
For more information on how to register to vote, please visit the State of Oregon's website for Elections Questions and Answers.
General City Government Questions
1. What is my City Council District?
The Portland City Council is not separated into districts. All City elected officials are elected citywide.
You can read more about the City's Government Structure on the Council Clerk's website.
If you have a question or concern related to a particular City bureau, you may wish to contact the commissioner in charge of that particular agency. View the Elected Officials Portfolios and Contact Information the Council Clerk's site.
2. How are the Mayor, Commissioners, and Auditor elected in the City of Portland?
City candidates are elected citywide, and all offices are nonpartisan. Offices alternate on the ballot, and each have four-year terms. Candidates appear on the regularly scheduled May Primary ballots in even numbered years.
A candidate is elected if they obtain a majority of votes at the Primary. If no candidate reaches a majority of votes cast (more than 50 percent), the two candidates receiving the highest share of the vote advance to a runoff election as a part of the City’s November General Election. The candidate receiving the largest number of votes in November is then elected.
3. How many elected offices does Portland have?
The City of Portland has six elected offices:
- The Mayor
- Commissioner Position No. 1
- Commissioner Position No. 2
- Commissioner Position No. 3
- Commissioner Position No. 4
- The City Auditor
The office of the Mayor, Commissioner Positions No. 1, and No. 4 appear on the ballot and are elected during presidential elections. The Auditor, Commissioner Positions No. 2, and No. 3 are elected and appear on the ballot during mid-term elections.
The Mayor and City Commissioners make up the City Council.
4. Can elected officials be recalled? If so, how?
Yes. Article II, Section 18 of the Oregon Constitution provides that “every public officer in Oregon is subject, as herein provided, to recall by the electors of the state or of the electoral district from which the public officer is elected.” The City Elections Office provides general information on the recall petition process, which is regulated only by state law. The Oregon Secretary of State’s office provides a recall manual with specific information on how to file and begin the recall process.
5. If an elected official is recalled, can they run for re-election?
If an elected official is successfully recalled, a special election will occur to fill the remainder of the term. Recalled elected officials may not file to run for the remainder of the term from which they have been recalled. However, nothing in City regulations or state law prevents them from running for that office in the future.
1. Can voters pass citywide laws without going through City Council?
Yes. Voters are guaranteed the right to initiative & referendum petition by the Oregon Constitution and City Charter.
Initiative petitions are petitions to enact new legislation through a ballot measure that may amend City Code or Charter.
Referendum petitions are petitions to repeal Council-adopted ordinances that amend City Code, through a ballot measure.
2. How do I start an initiative petition?
Residents may enact City laws through the initiative petition process. Detailed information on how to start an initiative petition is available on the City Elections site.
To challenge a City Council decision to pass an ordinance, residents may refer the non-emergency ordinance to the voters through the referendum petition process. Detailed information on how to start a referendum petition is available on the City Elections site.
In many cases, residents may be able to address concerns simply by meeting with City Council Members Offices or testifying before Council. City Council members may introduce legislation before the City Council without going to the voters. The only exception to this is amendments to the City Charter, which must go to the voters in all cases.
Campaign Finance Regulations: General Questions
1. Which provisions of the campaign finance regulations are currently upheld and enforceable?
To find out which specific provisions are currently deemed unconstitutional, visit the Campaign Finance Legal Status update page here. For a general overview, see below:
- Upheld under Oregon’s Constitution:
- Communication to voters related to a City election must disclose the sources of the contributions or independent expenditures used to fund the communication. See City Code 2.10.030
- Individuals can make campaign contributions via payroll deduction if employers agree to it or offer other such deductions. See City Code 2.10.010(C).
- Limits on campaign contributions to candidates running in a city election. See City Code 2.10.010(A) and 2.10.010(B), except for self-funding limitations under City Charter Section 3-301(b)(3).
- Prohibited under Oregon Constitution and U.S. Constitution:
2. When did the Auditor’s Office begin enforcement of contribution limits?
As a result of court orders in April of 2020, beginning May 4, 2020, the Auditor’s Office has enforced regulations related to contribution limits (outside of the self-funding provision in City Charter 3-301(b)(3)).
The City’s enforcement does not include reviews of contribution violations alleged to have occurred before the May 4, 2020 enforcement date.
5. Do advertisements for ballot measures have the same disclosure requirements as city candidates?
City Code 2.10 regulates City of Portland candidate elections. Ballot measures, whether qualified by initiative, referendum, or Council-referral, are not subject to disclosure requirements in City Code 2.10.
6. I saw an advertisement for the governor's election, but the candidate did not disclose the sources that funded the campaign. Will your office investigate?
City Code 2.10 was passed by Portland voters and only regulates City election races. Candidates running for mayor, auditor, or a city commissioner seat are subject to regulations in City Code 2.10.
Other elections, such as gubernatorial, congressional, and presidential elections are not subject to the disclosure requirements in City Code 2.10.
7. I saw an advertisement from a candidate for mayor, but the ad did not list any campaign funders. How should I report this potential violation?
If you believe a candidate is not complying with the campaign disclosure requirements, fill out a complaint form or send an email with all required information to firstname.lastname@example.org. Required information includes: subject of complaint, alleged violation, and any relevant evidence you may have related to the alleged violation. See the Auditor’s Office rule regarding submitting complaints for all information that must be included in complaints.
If the inquiry is a valid complaint, our office will launch an investigation according to the regulation requirements. If necessary, the City Elections Office may contact you for additional information.
8. Can people submit complaints anonymously?
No. The Auditor’s Office cannot accept complaints submitted anonymously. However, if you want your information to be confidential, please indicate so in your complaint. The Auditor’s Office will keep information confidential to the greatest extent allowed by law. However, some provisions of Oregon public records law may require disclosure of complainant information.
9. How is this different than other campaign finance regulations that currently exist?
Candidates for City elections must adhere to both state and City campaign finance regulations. Oregon’s Secretary of State is responsible for enforcing statewide campaign regulations, which are primarily disclosure and registration based in the state’s database of transactions, known as the Oregon Elections System for Tracking and Reporting (ORESTAR). In contrast, City regulations are specific to contribution limits and disclosures on certain campaign communications.
To view state election laws or search the public database of campaign finance disclosures, see the links below:
- Search the statewide campaign finance transaction database (ORESTAR)
- State Election Laws
- State Campaign Manuals
City Code 2.10 (the City’s campaign disclosure, contribution limits, and related regulations for City candidate elections) are additional regulations that only apply to candidates running for Citywide offices: Mayor, Commissioners, and Auditor.
The City also runs a program that provides eligible candidates with matching public funds, called the Open and Accountable Elections Program. This voluntary program provides matching public funds to qualified candidates in City elections. The program is separate from the City’s campaign finance regulations and is currently overseen by Commissioner Carmen Rubio's Office.
10. Who oversees and enforces the City campaign finance regulations?
The City Auditor’s Office oversees and enforces these regulations. The Office investigates complaints and publishes decisions regarding alleged violations.
11. Are there any administrative rules?
Yes. The City Auditor’s Office has adopted the following administrative rules:
- ARA 13.01 describes the purpose, authority, and construction of the administrative rules.
- ARA 13.02 offers definitions for the campaign finance regulations.
- ARA 13.03 offers details on filing a valid complaint, including treatment of retroactive allegations. The rule also describes investigation processes and clarifies penalties and enforcement criteria for certain violations.
- ARA 13.04 offers additional interpretation on digital media, social media, and other electronic campaign communication disclosures.
To view all of the Administrative Rules from the Auditor’s Office, visit the Administrative Rules Page for Campaign Finance in City Elections.
12. Candidates are prohibited from accepting more than $500 from individuals or committees during an election cycle, and communication to voters must include the top five dominant contributions per election cycle. How does your office calculate election cycles?
For this regulation’s purposes, an election cycle depends on the candidate, but is one of the following:
a) For incumbents: from the date the person was previously elected to the position, according to when the City certified election results, to the date the seat is officially filled, according to certified election results. This may be a four-year period or less, depending on the seat and whether a run-off is required.
b) For other candidates: Candidacy begins from the earliest of the following dates:
- The day the person files to run for office;
- The day the person declares themselves a candidate;
- The day the person begins receiving and accepting contributions toward candidacy; or
- The day the person makes an expenditure for the purposes of securing a nomination or election.
An election cycle ends the date the position is elected, according to when the City certifies election results. This may be from as short as three months to more than a year, depending on the seat, when the person files for office and begins collecting funds, and whether a run-off election is required.
13. How do I find out who contributed to a particular candidate?
The Oregon Secretary of State maintains the Oregon Elections System for Tracking and Reporting (ORESTAR) database. Effective January 1, 2007, the public can search for specific statements of organization, contributions, expenditures, and campaign finance activities by candidate committees or political committees. For additional guidance on how to search in ORESTAR, see the Secretary of State's latest Campaign Finance Manual or visit the state’s website.
Campaign Finance Regulations: Disclosure Requirements
1. I’m running for office. What exactly do I need to disclose on my campaign communications?
The Elections Office has created guidance on disclosure requirements, here.
With limited exceptions, independent expenditures and other communications related to City candidate elections must include the following disclosure information:
- Any political committee, candidate committee, or entity (business, organization, corporation, etc.) that paid to provide or paid to present the voter communication should be listed as specifically required, depending on the type of communication.
- For each of the top five dominant contributors (i.e., contributors who have donated more than $1,000) providing the largest amounts of funding to each of the above:
- The name of the individual or entity providing the contribution.
- The types of businesses from which the maker of the contribution has obtained a majority of income over the previous five years, with each business identified by the name associated with its six-digit code from the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).
Note: If any of the entities in 1. above are political committees (excluding small donor committees) or non-profit organizations, their top three funders during the elections cycle must be disclosed. However, if an entity in 1. is a small donor committee, the top three funders of the small donor committee do not also need to be listed.
2. Which type of items are considered exempt from requiring disclosures?
The following items are exempt from campaign disclosure regulations:
- Bumper stickers
- Campaign signs smaller than six square feet
- Small items worn by individuals, such as buttons or stickers
- Flyers or other pieces of literature distributed to fewer than 500 people
3. I'm running for office, but I do not plan to participate in the City's Open and Accountable Elections Program. Do I still need to disclose my campaign contributions?
Yes. City Code 2.10 applies to all candidates running for office in a City election. See FAQs on Coordination with the Open and Accountable Elections (OAE) Program below for more detail.
4. I have campaign social media accounts. Do I need to list my funding sources on every individual post?
Funding sources may be listed in a static, easily available biography or profile section of a social media account used for campaign communications. When disclosures are included in this manner, disclosures are not required in the text portion of every communication, such as in every text-based Tweet. However, if you publish a professionally-produced communication (such as a video advertisement, audio, or photo) via social media, different requirements apply and you should list the funding sources for that professionally-produced communication as required.
See the Auditor’s Administrative Rules on social media and electronic communication for more information and guidance.
5. My political committee funded a campaign communication with general pooled funds received from various sources. What is the disclosure requirement on these types of communications?
In a situation where there is no particular tie to a funder for a campaign communication, the political committee should list its top dominant contributors as outlined in the regulations as follows:
- Political committees or other entities paying to provide or paying to present the communication (this includes all overarching committees or entities) that are funding the communication).
- For each of the above’s top five dominant contributors – name and income sourcing.
See specifics in City Code 2.10.030.
6. I am wondering if my campaign communication will comply with the City’s disclosure regulations. Will your office review my ad before it’s distributed?
The Auditor’s Office can provide general information and interpretation of requirements. For specific legal advice or formal opinions, all candidates and campaigns are individually responsible for compliance and should seek outside legal advice.
7. How often should I update my required disclosure information? What about on my campaign’s website and social media accounts?
Campaign communication disclosures must be kept up to date as required depending on the type of communication and the format. It is recommended that disclosures be dated to ensure timely disclosure. See guidance on which communications require five versus 10 business day updates.
8. What are penalties for campaigns found to be in violation of these requirements?
For campaign contribution violations, the Charter requires a penalty of two to 20 times the amount of unlawful contribution or expenditure.
In determining the amount due as a civil penalty and factors considered by the Auditor's Office, see the Auditor’s Office Administrative Rule (ARA) 13.03.
For violations other than contribution violations, such as a failure to comply with disclosure regulations, the Auditor’s Office may issue a penalty up to $3,000 per violation. If the Auditor’s Office finds reason to believe the subjects of the complaint put for a good faith effort to comply with City Code 2.10, the City Auditor may, upon first offense, issue a letter of education and warning and/or include requirements for additional training.
9. I am not affiliated with a campaign. However, I want to produce communication pieces supporting my preferred candidate or opposing other candidates. Do I need to comply with the regulations in City Code 2.10?
Yes. City Code 2.10 states, “Each Communication to voters related to a City of Portland Candidate Election shall Prominently Disclose the true original sources of the Contributions and/or Independent Expenditures used to fund the Communication.”
ORS 260.005(10) defines independent expenditure as “an expenditure by a person for a communication in support of or in opposition to a clearly identified candidate or measure that is not made with the cooperation or with the prior consent of, or in consultation with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate or any agent or authorized committee of the candidate, or any political committee or agent of a political committee supporting or opposing a measure….”
For independent expenditures providing a campaign communication in City candidate elections:
For each of the largest five dominant independent spenders paying to provide or paying to present a communication, the communication must disclose:
a. The name of the individual or entity providing the independent expenditure.
b. The types of businesses from which the maker of the independent expenditure has obtained a majority of income over the previous five years, with each business identified by the name associated with its six-digit code from the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).
Any person or entity expending funds to produce communication related to a City of Portland candidate election must comply with the regulations set forth in City Code 2.10.
10. I do not accept campaign contributions from entities, and I only accept contributions less than $500. What am I required to disclose on my communication?
State law requires candidates to establish candidate committees and disclose transactions once they collect or spend $3,500. City Code 2.10.030 requires communication to voters to include the names of any political committees (or other entities) that paid to provide or paid to present the communication. Even if a candidate’s principal campaign committee does not have dominant contributors, that candidate must still disclose their political committee if sufficient funds for the communication come from the committee.
If no political committee or entity is involved in presenting the communication, no disclosure is required.
11. What is considered “professionally-produced content” requiring disclosure information within the content itself?
ARA 13.04(B)(2)(a) specifies that professionally-produced content “may include, but is not limited to, content developed by professionals specifically hired to produce the content or content developed with the use of specialized editing or expertise.”
Although the Auditor’s office is not specifically monitoring campaign use of professional services to create and publish content, if there are questions about whether something is professionally produced, the Elections Office encourages full disclosure.
Campaign Finance Regulations: Contribution Limits
1. Leading up to the City’s Primary Election, I contributed $500 to a mayoral candidate. That candidate has since advanced to the November runoff election. Am I allowed to donate another $500 to that same candidate?
Generally, no. Individuals and also political committees, are limited to a maximum donation amount of $500 toward a candidate or candidate committee during an election cycle.
For this regulation’s purposes, an election cycle depends on the candidate, but is either:
- For incumbents: from the date the person was previously elected to the position, according to official election results, to the date the seat is officially filled. This may be a four-year period, depending on the seat and whether a run-off is required.
- For other candidates: from the date the person files for, declares, or begins taking contributions toward City office, through the date the position is elected, according to official election results. This may be from as short as three months to more than a year, depending on the seat, when the person files for office and begins collecting funds, and whether a run-off election is required.
2. Who is held responsible for ensuring the $500 contribution limits: the campaign or the donor?
Under the City’s campaign finance regulations, both the contributor and the campaign are liable for the transactions that exceed contribution limits. Both the contributor and campaign are subject to mandatory civil penalties if the Auditor’s Office finds a contribution violation.
For example, an individual contributor may be found in violation for making more than the allowed donation to one candidate’s political committee ($500, with limited exceptions) and a candidate’s campaign or other political committee may also be found in violation for accepting such a contribution.
See the specific contribution limits provided under City Charter 3-301 and corresponding City Code 2.10.010 (outside of self-funding provisions in City Charter 3-301(b)(3) and corresponding City Code 2.10.010(b)(3)) and listed below:
- An Individual or Entity may make Contributions only as specifically allowed to be received in this Chapter.
- A Candidate or Candidate Committee may receive only the following Contributions during any Election Cycle:
- Not more than $500 from an Individual or a Political Committee other than a Small Donor Committee.
- Any amount from a qualified Small Donor Committee.
Note: Amounts are adjusted for inflation on January 1 of each odd-numbered year.
3. I would like to personally donate to multiple City candidates. If I donate $500 to one candidate’s committee, am I prohibited from contributing additional funds to a different candidate during the election cycle?
No. The limitation applies to the individual’s aggregate contribution to a particular candidate either through direct contributions to the candidate or through contributions to a candidate’s committee during the election cycle.
For Example: Contributor A may not contribute more than $500 in the same election cycle (which includes both the Primary and General Elections) to Candidate A. However, Contributor A may contribute $500 to Candidate A and an additional $500 to Candidate B during the same time period.
Campaign Finance Regulations: Coordination with Open and Accountable Elections (OAE) Program
1. Do candidates participating in the OAE Program have to comply with the City’s campaign disclosure regulations?
2. Do candidates participating in the OAE Program have to comply with the Contribution limits, such as in-kind and seed-money?
A City candidate participating in the OAE Program may receive any amount that program allows a participating candidate to receive.
3. Candidates participating in the OAE Program are not allowed to accept contributions over $250, with some exceptions. What are OAE Program participants supposed to disclose on voter communications?
First, City Code 2.10 requires all candidates to list the political committees or other entities that paid to provide or paid to present each voter communication. Candidates participating in the OAE Program likely have political committees that must be disclosed.
Second, all candidates must list their candidate committee’s top five dominant contributors on communication related to City candidate elections. A person or entity is a dominant contributor if they donated more than $1,000 to a political committee in a candidate election. For the purposes of these regulations, in-kind contributors and seed money contributors may qualify as disclosable top dominant contributors.
If a political committee does not have any donors who contributed more than $1,000, this second disclosure would not apply.
4. The OAE Program allows candidates to accept in-kind contributions and seed money. Do candidates need to disclose those donations?
For the City’s campaign finance disclosure regulations, in-kind contributions and seed money contributions are treated no differently from any other type of contribution.
If the seed money or in-kind contribution is valued at more than $1,000 AND if the donation came from one of the top five donors of the political committee or entity who paid to provide or paid to present a particular voter communication, then disclosure is required.
5. I was a candidate participating in the Open and Accountable Elections Program, and the election recently ended. Am I allowed to collect contributions after the election?
Generally, candidates are still allowed to accept contributions under the City’s campaign finance regulations, with a few caveats. Under our regulations, candidates are limited to receiving $500 from individuals and political committees during an election cycle, and they are not allowed to receive any contributions from entities other than political committees during an election cycle (See City Code 2.10.010).
As an FYI, for the campaign finance regulations, an election cycle for non-incumbents runs from the day they are considered a candidate (as defined in ORS 260.005(1)) for a City election and ends when the Auditor’s Office certifies the election results (See ARA 13.02(C)). For incumbent candidates, their election cycle began when they were last elected, based on the certification date, and ends when the Auditor’s Office certifies the election results in the next election for the same seat.
Some candidates may have received contributions that are allowable under OAE’s program but not allowable under the remaining provisions of the City campaign finance regulations. For example, OAE has a $20,000 aggregate in-kind contribution limit while the campaign finance regulations has a $500 in-kind contribution limit. As another example, non-OAE candidates are not allowed to receive contributions from entities other than political committees. In situations such as these, candidates would generally not be able to raise more funds from those contributors until after the election cycle ends.
Political Activities for Public Employees
1. Can I express my personal political views at work?
Yes. City employees may express personal political views, such as during a personal conversation with a coworker, even while on the job during working hours, as long as it does not interfere with the job and they are not speaking in their "official capacity." See ORS 260.432 and City Human Resources Administrative Rule 4.06.
2. Can I wear political buttons at work?
Yes. On or off the job, public employees may wear buttons that are intended and viewed as personal expressions of their political views. However, since residents might identify a personal expression as an official one, discretion is strongly advised. Special restrictions may apply to employees who wear City uniforms while on the job. Employees should consult with their supervisor and bureau or office-specific policies. See ORS 260.432 and City Human Resources Administrative Rule 4.06.
3. Can I participate in an elected official's campaign activity or campaign for or against a ballot measure on my own time outside of working hours?
Yes. City employees may participate in candidate or other political campaigns while on their own time (days off, lunch hours, breaks) as long as such activity is voluntary, and provided they are not acting in their "official capacity." The Elections Office strongly encourages employees to document any such dates and times on work calendars as personal time, after approval from a supervisor.
Salaried employees' work time is not as easily measured as that of hourly workers. Personal note-keeping by salaried employees is suggested, such as documenting the dates and times spent on political activity in a personal calendar. Recording when the employee is on or off duty can determine whether they are acting in their "official capacity." Also, during public appearances, employees should specifically announce to the audience in what capacity they are speaking (personal vs. official).
See ORS 260.432 and City Human Resources Administrative Rule 4.06.
4. Can I distribute campaign flyers or e-mails to coworkers?
No. Distributing campaign literature is prohibited during working hours. City employees may not use City resources such as interoffice mail, telephone, fax machines, internet, or copying machines in support or in opposition to a candidate, petition signature collection, or ballot measure. See ORS 260.432 and City Human Resources Administrative Rules 4.06, 4.08 & 4.09.
5. Can I display campaign signs or bumper stickers in my work space?
No. City employees may not display on City property posters, bumper stickers, announcements, or similar campaign materials promoting or opposing a candidate or ballot measure. See ORS 260.432 and City Human Resources Administrative Rule 4.06.
6. Can I solicit campaign contributions or petition signature sheets during working hours?
No. Campaigning or soliciting campaign funds or campaign assistance is prohibited during working hours. See ORS 260.432 and City Human Resources Administrative Rule 4.06.
7. What should I do if I receive campaign related phone calls or e-mails at work?
Unsolicited incoming calls and e-mails cannot be controlled, but employees should keep in mind the restrictions placed on political activities when responding. A public employee may address election-related issues while on the job, in a factual and impartial manner, if such activity is legitimately within the scope of the employee's normal duties (such as re-directing campaign scheduling inquiries to an appropriate point of contact).
A public employee may handle incoming calls about an elected official's availability for political events, as the elected official's scheduler must be aware of the elected official's schedule. However, elected officials' staff should not make outgoing calls while on the job during working hours to solicit political scheduling opportunities, organize campaign events, assist with campaign related compliance activity, or initiate any other political activity on behalf of the official.
8. What restrictions are placed on elected officials engaging in political activities?
Elected officials are not considered "public employees" for purposes of ORS 260.432. Elected officials may engage in political activity at any time, as long as they comply with City Charter Section 2-610 (time devoted to City business). Caution must be taken by elected officials to not involve public employees' work time in any activities that could be construed to be supporting or aiding an advocacy campaign effort. See ORS 260.432 and City Human Resources Administrative Rule 4.06.
Political Activities for Public Employees: Ballot Measures
1. Can City employee work time be used to advocate for a Council-referred ballot measure?
No. Once the issue is certified to the ballot, no public employee work time may be used to distribute any material that advocates a political position on the measure. City employees may not use City resources for any type of political activity during working hours, including but not limited to, interoffice mail, telephone, FAX machine, internet, email, or photocopy machines to advocate for or against the measure.
While City employees are not prohibited from any discussion of the subject of the measure, a distinction must be made between an action that supports or opposes the measure and the performance of duties normally expected to be required of a public employee as part of their job.
2. Can City employee work time and/or City resources be used to research and prepare a Council-referred ballot measure?
Yes. City employees may engage in research, public meetings, surveys and other actions to aid in the Council’s decision-making process of whether to put a specific issue on the ballot. However, once the issue is certified to the ballot, no public employee work time or resources may be used to redistribute any material that advocates a political position on the measure. See ORS 260.432 and City Human Resources Administrative Rules 4.06, 4.08 & 4.09.
3. Do these restrictions apply to initiative and referendum petitions?
Yes, even more so. While the restrictions against political activities apply to Council-referred measures after they are certified to the ballot, they apply to initiative and referendum petitions from the date the prospective petition is filed with the Auditor and throughout the signature gathering process. See ORS 260.432.
4. Can City employees provide any information about ballot measures?
Yes. City employees may provide information related to a measure as long as the information is factual, unbiased, and appropriate to the usual conduct of City business. Any analysis must be fairly presented to include only factual information, not speculation. Further, the analysis cannot be one-sided, but must provide a balance of information. A public employee presenting impartial information about a ballot measure on their work time or official capacity must follow similar standards for impartiality as outlined for written materials. Courts strictly interpret this restriction. Any information prepared concerning the anticipated effect of a measure should be submitted to the City Attorney's Office for review before distribution. See ORS 260.432 and City Human Resources Administrative Rule 4.06.
5. Can a City employee attend meetings where a measure is discussed?
Yes, with caution. City employees may be present at a meeting with people where City ballot measures are discussed.
When City employees are aware campaign issues may come up, they should arrange to leave, pre-schedule personal time to attend, or alert the attendees of restrictions on campaigning by public employees. For example, if discussion concerning campaigning for or against a measure are part of a circulated written agenda, then the employee should not participate in those activities, which could involve the need to leave the meeting. Abbreviated and ad hoc discussions involving measure advocacy may be difficult to predict and unless campaign issues become the primary discussion, should not require an employee to leave a meeting. Regardless, City employees should not join in those activities or discussions, other than to offer impartial information if needed.
If the City employee is to be part of a panel of speakers, the facilitator should announce that the employee involved may not advocate on work time and is only there to provide impartial information.
If the employee is attending a campaign event in a personal capacity and not attending on work time or in their official capacity, they may themselves announce that they are participating on their own time, representing themselves, and so not subject to these restrictions.
See ORS 260.432.
6. How do I determine whether material is campaign advocacy?
Refer to the Secretary of State's publication, Restrictions on Political Campaigning by Public Employees. Some factors considered in making the determination of whether the material is advocacy include:
- Timing of the publication
- Explicitly urging a yes or no vote
- Balance of factual information
- Overall impression
- Tone of the publication
- Use the words "will" or "need"
- Headings, other words or phrases that lend a positive (or negative) tone
- Quotes about the measure
- Formatting used to emphasize (or de-emphasize) information
- Phrases similar to campaign slogans
- Contact information for political committees
- Inclusion of an elected official’s position on the measure
The City Attorney can also provide guidance in determining whether material may be considered advocacy.
See ORS 260.432.