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Campaign Finance Legal Status

This page contains information about the legal status and court rulings impacting enforcement of the City’s campaign finance regulations.

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(Latest update: February 22, 2021)

What are the campaign finance regulations that apply to City elections?

On November 6, 2018, voters amended the City of Portland Charter by passing Portland ballot measure 26-200 relating to the election of City of Portland candidates for Mayor, City Commissioners, and Auditor. On January 16, 2019, the Portland City Council took the first step to carry out the voters’ will by adopting Ordinance No. 189348 to implement the Charter amendment. The Charter amendment generally requires:

  • Limits on how much a donor can contribute to a political campaign;
  • Limits on how much a campaign can spend (also called “expenditure” limits);
  • Certain fundraising organizations to register as political committees (commonly thought of as “political action committees” or “PACs”);
  • Campaigns to disclose details about their funding on certain elections communications; and
  • An employee’s right to make campaign contributions by payroll deduction in some circumstances.

The amended Charter requires the City Auditor’s Office to administer and enforce the Charter’s new requirements. 

Is the City enforcing the campaign finance regulations?    

The City is enforcing provisions that a court has found constitutional. The two provisions that courts have found not to be constitutional are the expenditure limits in City Charter 3-302(a) and (c) and the self-funding limit in City Charter 3-301(b)(3)

What Court decisions have been issued about the legality of the campaign finance rules?

The Multnomah County Circuit Court issued a General Judgment on October 6, 2020, confirming the validity of City Code 2.10.010 and City Charter 3-301. The following sections on expenditure limits were held to be invalid: City Charter 3-302(a), (c) and City Code 2.10.020 A., C

The Circuit Court did not specifically address City Charter 3-301(b)(3), which limits the amount a candidate may loan to the candidate’s own campaign.  Self-funding limits have been held to be unconstitutional under federal law and that section is not being enforced by the Auditor’s Office.

Current timeline of relevant litigation

Below is a timeline of the important decisions in the City’s efforts to have the Circuit Court validate the Charter amendments.  There is ongoing litigation related to specific enforcement decisions that is not outlined here, but this website will be updated as ongoing litigation impacts the City’s enforcement authority.

February 2019
After the voters amended the Charter, the City filed a petition with the Multnomah County Circuit Court, asking the Court to validate the Charter amendments as constitutional. 

June 10, 2019
The Circuit Court issued an opinion validating the constitutionality of several sections of the Charter amendments:

The provisions limiting campaign contributions and expenditures, however, were struck down by the Circuit Court and continued to be litigated. 

September 1, 2019
The City began enforcing the above requirements (City Charter 3-302(b) and City Code 2.10.020 B.City Charter 3-303 and City Code 2.10.030City Charter 3-301(c) and City Code 2.10.010 C.).

April 23, 2020
The Oregon Supreme Court held for the first time that campaign contribution limits are lawful under the Oregon Constitution.  That Supreme Court decision was in a case called Multnomah County v. Mehrwein.  The Mehrwein decision reversed a longstanding rule from an older Oregon Supreme Court decision that previously held that limits on campaign contributions were unconstitutional.  At issue in Mehrwein were campaign finance rules in County elections, not the City’s rules.  The decision addressed the legality of some, but not all, of the new City rules. For example, limits on self-funding were not addressed in Mehrwein.

April 28, 2020
The Oregon Court of Appeals ordered the Multnomah County Circuit Court to reconsider its June 10, 2019 decision in light of the Mehrwein decision. 

May 4, 2020
The City began enforcing the portion of the City Code and Charter relating to contribution limits in City elections, which were lawful under Mehrwein, and included the following:  City Charter 3-301(a)–(b) and City Code 2.10.010 A.–B., relating to limitations on campaign contributions.

However, the City still is not enforcing the provision requiring the self-funding limit in City Charter 3-301(b)(3).  The City is also not enforcing City Charter 3-302(a) and (c) and City Code 2.10.020 A. and C., relating to limitations on campaign expenditures.  The Circuit Court has confirmed these provisions to be invalid.

October 6, 2020
The Multnomah County Circuit Court issued a General Judgment confirming the validity of City Code 2.10.010 and City Charter 3-301. The following sections on expenditure limits were held to be invalid: City Charter 3-302(a), (c) and City Code 2.10.020 A., C

The Circuit Court did not specifically address City Charter 3-301(b)(3), which limits the amount a candidate may loan to the candidate’s own campaign.  Self-funding limits have been held to be unconstitutional under federal law and that section is not being enforced by the Auditor’s Office.

Are the Charter amendments still in court?

Yes, there are several ongoing lawsuits challenging the legality of the regulations and the City's enforcement.  Parties subject to the City's enforcement periodically seek review of City Auditor Office decisions in Circuit Court. This page will be updated if there is additional guidance provided by new rulings issued from the courts. 

Related documents: