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Dozono is first mayoral candidate certified for public financing

Portland's city auditor Wednesday afternoon officially certified Portland businessman Sho Dozono has the first-ever Portland mayoral candidate eligible for public financing of his campaign.

Dozono is running in the May primary against City Commissioner Sam Adams. City Auditor Gary Blackmer verified that Dozono had collected more than 3,700 contributions - of $5 - to allow him to qualify for the city's public financing system.

As a candidate under the public financing system, Dozono will now be eligible for a bit more than $161,000 in public funds for his campaign. That amount is the limit of $200,000, minus what Dozono had collected in $5 contributions and the roughly $20,000 Dozono collected in 'seed money' for his campaign.

Candidates participating in public financing agree to collect no other private contributions for their campaigns.

Blackmer's certification of Dozono for the public financing system was in question because of a poll conducted on the mayor's race before Dozono became a declared candidate.

Portland lobbyist Len Bergstein commissioned the poll, which compared how Dozono would do against Adams in the mayor's race. Although Bergstein is advising Dozono in his race against Adams, he said he commissioned the poll before Dozono decided to enter the race. Bergstein also said he did not tell Dozono about the poll in advance, but shared the results with him after they came in.

After the poll became controversial, Dozono reported the cost of it - $27,295 - as an in-kind contribution to his campaign.

Mayoral candidates who participate in the public financing system are prohibited from collecting more than $12,000 in in-kind contributions - including during 'exploratory' phases. But Blackmer concluded the poll would not disqualify Dozono from public financing certification because Dozono was not a declared candidate when it was conducted.

"The Auditor finds no evidence that your activities and statements prior to January 2008 were anything more than those of a private individual gathering information and conferring with others to help decide whether to undertake a mayoral campaign," Blackmer wrote in his certificiation letter to Dozono. "Thus, based on the factors and reasoning set forth in the Initial Determination Letter, the Auditor finds that your name was not expected to be on the ballot and you were not a Candidate under City Code until January 2008."

Critics have suggested that could become a large loophole in the city's public financing system that will be abused by future candidates.

Adams, who for months was running for mayor without noteworthy opposition, will not be using public financing for his campaign.

"I am humbled to be able to give a voice to the thousands and thousands of Portlanders who want to see us have a contest for Mayor, not a coronation," Dozono said in a news release after the certification. "And even though I'm the underdog -- a spirited contest is what they will get."

Dozono owns Portland's Azumano travel agency and is a well-known business and civic leader. He has helped organize rallies for public schools, a Portland shopping trip to New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to show support for the city, and another trip by a group of Oregonians to New Orleans to support the city after Hurricane Katrina and Rita.