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Sources Say: Cash washes in to buck, back water measure

Money is beginning to pour into the campaign to defeat the proposed Portland Public Water District on the May 20 primary election ballot.

The Stop the Bull Run Takeover political action committee now reports raising more than $151,000 in cash and in-kind contributions against Measure 26-156. Recent major contributions include $5,000 from CH2M Hill Engineering and $1,000 from David Evans and Associates, two companies that frequently work on large public construction projects. The largest recent contribution, $20,000, came from a public employees union, Oregon AFSCME Council 75.

In the meantime, measure supporters report raising just under $50,000 to pass it, so far. Recent major donations include $5,000 from lumberman Andrew Miller, who has underwritten much of the conservative movement in Clackamas County, and $20,000 from Siltronic Corp., which also gave $55,000 to place the measure on the ballot. The R.B Pamplin Corp., which owns the Portland Tribune, also donated $1,000 to Portlanders for Water Reform, even though the newspaper editorialized against the measure.

Does the utility watchdog need watching?

The City Council has contracted with the Citizens' Utility Board to provide additional oversight of water and sewer ratepayer spending. CUB is not scheduled to weigh in on the proposed budgets for the Water Bureau and Bureau of Environmental Services until next month. But it turns out CUB supported ratepayer spending that later was ruled illegal back in 2006.

At the time, the statewide consumer advocacy organization was supporting the city's now-defunct public campaign financing program against a ballot measure referral drive supported by large utility companies. CUB was founded as a utility watchdog and argued that public campaign financing provided a balance to big money politics. But before the Voter Owned Elections program eventually was repealed by Portland voters, it gave $547,438 in water and sewer ratepayer funds to qualifying candidates, along with money collected from all other city agencies.

In February, Multnomah County Circuit Judge Stephen Bushong ruled that was illegal. The ruling came in a lawsuit challenging many water and sewer spending programs approved by the City Council. Although Bushong ruled the council has broad authority when it comes to spending ratepayer money, he said the VOE program did not qualify because it had nothing to do with the delivery of water and sewer services. The spending had been approved by the city attorney's office.

Some people just don't like parties

Disillusioned former Democrat Jeffrey Rempfer isn't the only nonaffiliated voter who has started a website for others who refuse to commit to Portland parties. So has Hillsboro attorney and business owner Robert Harris, who launched OregonOutpost.com around 18 months ago.

Like Rempfer, Harris intends his website to be a forum where nonaffiliated voters can share ideas about how to reform the political system. His proposed changes include allowing nonaffiliated and minor party voters to participate in primary elections, making the offices of Oregon attorney general and secretary of state nonpartisan, and providing public campaign funds to candidates on a matching basis.

"Sometimes a solution to a public issue is the Democratic one, sometimes the Republican one, and sometimes neither of the major parties has the best solution," Harris said.