Election complaint on METRO: Illegal fundraising, staff use

By Clackamas County Chair Elect Tootie Smith,

Clackamas County Chair-Elect Tootie Smith files elections complaint against METRO for sponsoring Oregon League of Conservation Voters’ political fundraiser

Smith says illegal use of taxpayer resources could mean penalties for METRO staff; blasts timing of event while wildfires raged and forced mass evacuations

Clackamas County Chair-Elect Tootie Smith announced today that she filed an official complaint with the Oregon Secretary of State Elections Division against regional governing body METRO for sponsoring a partisan, political candidate fundraiser hosted by the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. The event occurred as a virtual fundraiser on September 11, 2020 and featured guest speakers like Governor Kate Brown and Democratic Secretary of State candidate Shemia Fagan. The event raised at least $123,000 while featuring endorsements of two candidates for METRO Council, many Democratic candidates for state legislature and other offices, and even promoting METRO’S own $7 billion-dollar transportation tax on the ballot this November.

“I am disgusted that METRO would so boldly violate Oregon’s elections laws and take advantage of taxpayers in this way,”stated Tootie Smith. “Not only is METRO a publicly-funded agency that is prohibited from using taxpayer resources on any political committee, candidate, or ballot measure election, but they did so to promote their $7 billion-dollar tax measure as residents in my county were literally losing everything they own to wildfires that are still burning here. Arrogantly violating the law and the public’s trust should come with swift consequences,” Smith demanded.

The virtual event was held on Friday, September 11th from 6:30-8pm and stated in its promotional materials that all proceeds would benefit OLCV’s mission which specifically includes “electing pro-environment candidates to office”. Oregon League of Conservation Voters is registered with the Secretary of State as a political action committee (PAC) which prohibits METRO from being able to participate as a public government agency. Shockingly, current candidate for Secretary of State Shemia Fagan failed to recognize the violation of state election law. Fagan was caught in the video recording stating “I demand that you donate to the Oregon League of Conservation Voters to make sure that we can send back pro-environment, pro-democracy legislators to Salem.”

“As if METRO’s bureaucratic blind spots aren’t bad enough, we have a secretary of state candidate who claims she wants fair elections but is busy using our tax dollars to promote her campaign,” said Smith. “The event celebrated Governor Brown and candidate Shemia Fagan as ‘climate heroes’ of 2020, while my county was burning up as a result of the failed environmental policies they support. The stunning disconnect proves neither of these people are qualified to run the state. They were having fun, sipping champagne, and asking people to give $2,500 donations to campaigns, while my neighbors were scrambling to evacuate their homes and save their livestock and property. Meanwhile, Oregonians with few means were giving $5 to GoFundMe drives because the state was not prepared for a disaster. Shame on Governor Brown and Senator Shemia Fagan!” exclaimed Smith.

Clackamas County’s Riverside wildfire has burned over 135,000 acres and many parts of the county are still under evacuation warnings. On September 11th, Molalla’s 8,000 residents, including Chair-Elect Smith, had just been given a Level 3 “Go Now” warning and surrounding Oregon City, Canby and Sandy were upgraded to Level 2 “Be Ready to Leave”. Tens of thousands of Metro area residents have been displaced and many have had their homes and property destroyed.
“Last Friday, when this fundraiser occurred, I was fleeing my home and scrambling to help my neighbors in need,” explained Smith. “I’ve been away from my home for 8 days and just returned to view the damage. My entire home is smoke-filled and unlivable. To think that our state leaders were celebrating the very policies that exacerbated these fires while our communities burned makes me sick to my stomach. And to know these politicians were blatantly campaigning using our tax dollars to promote extreme and partisan political agendas is not only unethical, it’s illegal,” she stated.
In addition, to the election complaint against METRO, Smith is exploring a possible lawsuit against the agency for its participation and public support of a partisan fundraiser promoting its own bond measure.