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Audit: City should stop subsidizing presidential campaigns

Portland has spent at least $180,000 to support visits by presidential candidates and their surrogates during the past two years without making any effort to get reimbursed — despite a city policy to the contrary, according to a new audit by the city auditor's office.

The audit released Tuesday, May 31, "Presidential campaign visits: The City should follow policy and charge for services," found that most of the money was spent by the Portland Police Bureau to provide security, although other services were provided by human resources, information technology and city attorney's office employees.

No attempt was made to recover such costs over the past two years, even though the city code allows bureaus to charge private entities for services. The existing policy requires bureaus to: collect the resources to which the city is entitled; charge fees to fully recover costs when services provide private benefits to specific users; and send bills within 30 days.

"As a result, taxpayers and the City’s General Fund subsidized these political campaign events, even as donors were asked to contribute $500 to $12,500 at political fundraisers. When City funds are scarce and the City has to prioritize many competing services, it is important for the City to recover its costs from private entities when it can," the audit says.

The audit says much of the city's cost is police overtime. Despite that, the police bureau had been unsuccessful at being reimbursed in the past, and so stopped following the policy. The audit says the bureau should start following the policy again.

In a letter of response, Police Chief Larry O'dea agreed with the audit and would comply. The letter was written before O'dea was placed on paid administrative leave during an investigation into how he responded to shooting a friend during a hunting trip.

The audit gave several examples of the cost of such campaign visits, including:

• At least $89,000 for at least 1,400 staff hours when President Barak Obama visited Nike and held a fundraiser at a hotel in May 2015.

• At least $53,400 for 1,200 staff hours when Vice President Joe Biden campaigned for U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and visited an ice cream parlor in October 2014.

• At least $22,000 for 400 staff hours when Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders held a campaign rally at the Moda Center in March 2016.

• At least $7,100 when former House Speaker John Boehner visited Portland for unknown reasons in September 2015.

• $4,900 for 100 staff hours when former President Bull Clinton visited a bookstore with Gov. Kate Brown on before of his wife in March 2016.

• $3,900 for 100 staff hours when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a private fundraiser in August 2015.

The audit found only one instance where the police bureau was partly reimbursed. Sander's campaign repaid it $1,100 for 14 staff hours for his August 2015 rally.

The audit found some other cities have successfully recovered some or all of their campaign-related costs.

"Campaigns have reimbursed other cities for police overtime. This includes $10,000 to Newport Beach from Mitt Romney; $1,800 to Des Moines from Hillary Clinton; $3,600 to Marshalltown, Iowa, from Donald Trump; and $90 to Marshalltown from Bernie Sanders," the audit says.

"On the other hand, we also found many cities that did not bill campaigns or unsuccessfully tried to recover their costs later," the audit continues.

You can read the audit at www.portlandoregon.gov/auditservices/article/578387.