by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Rep. Jefferson Smith is raking in big bucks from out-of-state donors.

One of the many scams that caused the U.S. housing bubble was sketchy property appraisals. Buyers and sellers often knew to go to certain appraisers to get a property valued in a favorable light. Appraisers knew who buttered their bread.

Supposedly the problem was fixed after the housing bubble burst and led to the Great Recession. But maybe not.

Multnomah County is about to sell its share of the Penumbra Kelly Building at 4747 E. Burnside St. to the city of Portland, which owns parts of the building and uses it for the police bureau. The county commissioned an appraisal of the building's value in June 2010 that concluded it was worth $4.4 million. The city commissioned its own appraisal nine months later. That one concluded the property was worth $2.3 million.

Hmmm. Could the value really have plummeted 47 percent in just nine months? Or are these 'independent' appraisers coming up with values that benefit the entity that hired them?

As is often the case, the buyer and seller split the difference, agreeing on a $3.6 million value for the building. To buy out the county's share, the city will pay the county $1.6 million.

Is Oregon Romney's finish line?

The Wall Street Journal predicts Oregon's May 15 primary election could help decide the Republican Presidential race. According to an analysis published by the newspaper on Feb. 18, at the rate front-runner Mitt Romney is going, he will not clinch the nomination until the end of May. If Romney stumbles even more in the upcoming primaries, it could take longer for a clear winner to emerge.

As the Journal pointed out, Gerald Ford did not win enough delegates in 1976 to secure the nomination until Aug. 19. In 1980, Ronald Reagan's victory in the May 20 Oregon primary helped him clinch the nomination that night.

This makes the upcoming Oregon Republican presidential debate all the more significant. It is scheduled for March 19 at the Oregon Public Broadcasting studios.

In addition to OPB, sponsors include the Oregon Republican Party, National Public Radio, the Public Broadcast System and the Washington Times. Of course, that assumes the candidates are still willing to debate one another by then.

As they sang in 'Cabaret': Money, money, money

As expected, with state Rep. Jefferson Smith unable to collect contributions for his Portland mayoral campaign during the month-long 2012 legislative session, candidates Eileen Brady and Charlie Hales have widened their fundraising lead. As of the beginning of the week, Smith was stuck with less than $308,000 in cash and in-kind contributions, compared to more than $573,000 for Brady and more than $340,000 for Hales.

The legislative session is scheduled to end March 6.

In the meantime, an analysis of Smith's contributions reveals that he has raised more than $80,000 from people living outside Oregon, more than either Brady or Hales. Much of the money - more than $23,000 - came from people living in Washington, D.C., including lawyers, consultants and political operatives, although not from any corporations or political action committees.

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