City issues order -- Branam already violating it
We were planning to hold this one for the morning, but it's just too good to wait any longer.
On Friday at 5 in the afternoon -- just in time to be lost in weekend festivities -- the City of Portland issued its ruling on the investigation into whether City Council candidate John Branam had misspent publicly provided campaign funds by paying his campaign manager, Phil Busse, $20,000, and promising to pay him another $5,000 between now and the May 20 primary.
The ruling? That $25,000 was too much to pay Busse for the campaign -- it was beyond the $20,000 fair market value of his services. The city auditor ordered Branam not to pay Busse more than the $20,000 he had already received.
But get this: About an hour later, Branam reported to state elections officials that he had already paid Busse another $1,000, that very day!
We kid you not. At this writing, the breakdown of salary payments to Busse, gleaned from the ORESTAR system, is as follows:
|Mar. 6||$ 1,000|
|Mar. 14||$ 1,000|
|Mar. 28||$ 1,000|
|Apr. 4||$ 1,000|
|Apr. 7||$ 1,000|
|Apr. 18||$ 1,000|
In his ruling Friday, the city elections officer, Andrew Carlstrom, wrote in part:
2. The Auditor has determined that payments totaling $20,000 to Mr. Busse fall within the range of fair market value for three months work and will comply with City Code Section 2.10.090.C.6.Given that the ruling was issued the same day as the last $1,000 check cut to Busse, one wonders at what times of day the two events transpired. The auditor's decision was announced to the public at 5 p.m. -- when was it delivered by e-mail to Branam? Did Branam and Busse know about the ruling before the check was delivered to Busse? Before Busse negotiated it, if indeed he already has?
3. However, any further expenditures from John4PDX for "wages, salary, and benefits" to Mr. Busse will trigger a violation of City Code Section 2.10.090 and will result in a civil penalty. If John4PDX chooses to pay Mr. Busse in excess of $20,000, the Auditor will determine the expenditures to Mr. Busse exceed "fair market value" and you will be assessed a penalty twice the amount of the infraction, or ten thousand dollars. In addition, should this occur, you will be required to return the excess amount to the Campaign Finance Fund. Please note that, per City Code Section 2.10.220.A.6, civil penalties may not be paid with Campaign Finance Fund revenues.
4. Payments to Mr. Busse for reimbursement of expenses during the Primary Election Period will still be allowed. However, given that the original planned expenditures to Mr. Busse were to total $25,000, any further expenditures made by John4PDX to Mr. Busse for wages, salary, or benefits during the Primary Election Period will result in a violation and penalty.
5. The March 27, 2008 Service Agreement between John4PDX and Phil Busse must be amended to reflect total payments to Mr. Busse of $20,000 instead of $25,000 to eliminate any commitment to any additional amount. Please submit a copy of the amended signed agreement to the Auditor not later than 5:00 p.m., Wednesday, April 23, 2008.
In any event, according to the terms of the ruling, it would appear that the Branam campaign has two options at this point: have Busse pay back the $1,000 he picked up on Friday (don't bet on that, people), or suffer the consequences. The consequences appear to be forfeiture of $1,000 out of the "clean money" pot, plus a $2,000 penalty, which Branam would have to pay out of his own pocket.
Here's an interesting question: What if a generous donor wanted to give Branam the $2,000 to pay the penalty? Could Branam accept that gift? Would it matter if the donor was a close relative? By taking taxpayer funds under the "voter-owed elections" system, does a candidate lose the right to receive, say, a birthday present from one's parents?
We doubt that the city code or regulations address these questions, but hey -- like everything else with "clean money," we're sure that City Hall will just make up some new rules on the fly. It's a swell system, and it's working just great.
There are some other troublesome aspects of the auditor's ruling as well. But those really can wait until tomorrow. The fact that Branam's already in violation of the order is story enough for tonight.
UPDATE, 4/21, 7:20 p.m.: More on this here.