PUD campaign sets spending record
PGE and PacifiCorp-backed foes in Multnomah County raise $1.9 million, 60 times as much as public power supporters
JONATHAN BRINCKMAN and SCOTT LEARN
Money from Portland General Electric and PacifiCorp has turned the battle over creating a publicly owned utility in Multnomah County into the most expensive initiative campaign in county history.
Citizens Against the Government Takeover, which opposes measures 26-51 and 26-52 on the Nov. 4 ballot, reported that it had raised nearly $1.9 million in cash and in-kind contributions by Monday.
That is more than 60 times the $29,000 raised by the Oregon Public Power Coalition and Don't Waste Oregon Caucus which support the measure. Both amounts were reported to the Multnomah County elections division.
The opposition contributions include $800,000 in cash from Enron-owned PGE and $550,000 in cash from ScottishPower-owned PacifiCorp, which does business in Oregon as Pacific Power. PGE reported $162,022 of in-kind contributions, and PacifiCorp reported $353,514 of in-kind contributions, including canvassing, mailing and legal services.
If approved, Measure 26-51 would create a people's utility district with the authority to condemn PGE and PacifiCorp assets in Multnomah County and possibly elsewhere. Measure 26-52 would authorize a one-time .0003 percent property tax increase -- about 45 cents for a home assessed at $150,000 -- to study utility acquisition.
Ballots are due Tuesday. Both campaigns are still raising money.
Brian Gard, chairman of Citizens Against the Government Takeover and president of Gard & Gerber, a Portland advertising firm, said measure opponents expect to raise $150,000 more before the campaign is over. Gard & Gerber is conducting the campaign.
"Pacific Power and PGE would be irresponsible if they did not aggressively fight these ballot measures," Gard said. "There have never been ballot measures in Multnomah County that would have such a major impact on two corporations."
The opposition campaign has spent the bulk of its cash -- $567,000 -- buying television time for ads that highlight government bureaucracy and the proposed property tax increase.
PUD supporters say the ads distort the truth. They challenged the ballot title that says the measures could cause property taxes to increase by more than 3 percent.
A federal judge agreed with them and required the county to alert voters about what he called a "patently false" warning. But an appeals court allowed the ballot language to stand while the case is reviewed.
Some of the opposition television ads zoom in on the disputed language when warning of the potential property tax increases.
Portland Commissioner Erik Sten, who is helping lead the city's separate efforts to acquire PGE from Enron, said this week that the ads are "leaving a false impression."
Sten is officially neutral in the race. But he said the PUD opposition is running an "anti-public power" campaign focused on "protecting Enron's manipulation of PGE as much as it is about knocking the PUD down."
"There are good arguments both for and against the PUD, and they're going way beyond those," Sten said.
Gard said having partisans on both sides accuse each other of distortions is typical of any contested election.
"The reality is, we're in tough economic times, and there are a lot of people who care if there's a property tax on the ballot, whether it's big or small," Gard said. "They also have a right to know about this new layer of government."
Scale of efforts cited Liz Trojan, a member of the Oregon Public Power Coalition, decried the lopsided campaign spending but said her organization is encouraged by the scale of the opponents' efforts.
"Judging by the money they are spending, they are scared," she said. "That leads me to believe that their polls are not telling them what they want to hear."
Gard said his campaign conducts polls regularly but would not disclose findings. He said he has no doubt that the measures will be defeated.
"We are not worried," he said. "We want to defeat both of these measures very soundly. We want to send a clear message that the citizens of Multnomah County are rejecting a PUD in no uncertain terms."
Gard, who has waged about 30 ballot campaigns in his career, said some statewide campaigns have spent more in Multnomah County than this one, because Portland is the biggest media market in the state. But he said his campaign is easily the most expensive ever conducted solely in Multnomah County.
Although Multnomah County election officials don't have computer records that allow them to rank county campaigns, they also think the $1.894 million raised so far is already the most ever raised in a county campaign.
Other large campaigns Other large campaigns include: the Yes on 26-48/"It's Our Future" Committee, which raised $754,015 to support a three-year temporary county income tax that was adopted in May, and the campaign for the children's levy that raised more than $500,000 last November.
Vera Katz and Earl Blumenauer spent more than $1.7 million in the last hotly contested Portland mayoral race, in 1992. Spending in the race last year to fill an open City Council seat exceeded $1.2 million, with Randy Leonard winning.
The most money spent on a statewide initiative was in 1986, when a consortium of PGE and other utilities spent $5.5 million to defeat a proposal calling for the closure of PGE's Trojan Nuclear Plant 40 miles north of Portland.
Oregon Public Utility Commission officials say that PacifiCorp and PGE will have to take their campaign spending out of allowed profits and not charge ratepayers. "Campaign spending comes from earnings that the company can spend any way it chooses," said Bob Valdez, a PUC spokesman.
Jonathan Brinckman: 503-221-8190; email@example.com
Scott Learn: 503-294-7657; firstname.lastname@example.org