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Complaint alleges problems with YMCA campaign

Campaign hasn't disclosed where it's money is coming from, calls lack of transparency is 'clerical error'

A rendering by the 'yes' campaign shows what the Tigard rec center might look like, if built.

Editor's Note: After this story was published online, the "Yes" campaign updated its campaign finance activity.

A Tigard resident has filed a complaint with the Oregon Secretary of State’s office, alleging that the campaign to bring a YMCA community center to Tigard may have violated state elections law.

Vince Arditi, a former employee with Portland Parks and Recreation, filed the complaint on Sept. 4, alleging that the campaign has not disclosed its campaign finance activity as required by state law.

Arditi, who is running the Vote No campaign against the bond measure, said in the complaint that the campaign has not been transparent about where it is getting its money.

In November, voters will decide on Measure 34-241, a $34.5 million bond measure which would build a recreation and community center somewhere in the city.

The bond would tax property owners up to 51 cents per $1,000 of assessed value per year — about $122 a year for a $240,000 home.

By law, both campaigns must disclose how much money they raise and spend, but ORESTAR — the state-run website which keeps track of election campaigns — shows only a single contribution for the'yes' campaign.

The vote “yes” group, officially known as the Friends of the Downtown Tigard YMCA, disclosed only a single item in its official campaign finance activity filings: A $5,000 donation from Bob Gray, owner of TS Gray Construction in Tualatin; Gray, according to the campaign, has shown interest in building the community center if the bond measure is passed.

That doesn’t match with what Arditi says is actually occurring.

His complaint quotes an April 29 article in The Times where the vote “yes” campaign's director, Neal Brown, claimed to have raised $30,000 in funding from private donations to finance the bond measure.

A letter from the Secretary of State’s office was sent to Brown on Sept. 4 alerting him of the complaint. He had until Sept. 18 to respond to the letter.

As of Sept. 23, the 'yes' campaign has only disclosed one campaign contribution, and no expenses, despite thousands raised and spent by the campaign over the last few months.In a written statement, Reid Iford, a volunteer who is running the vote “yes” campaign, said that the Brown’s statements weren’t intended to be taken literally.

“Regarding specific amounts of possible donations referenced by the complainant, these comments were made prior to the campaign beginning and were only speculative,” Iford wrote. “They have no legal standing and no bearing in this matter.”

What isn't speculative is how much the campaign has spent in advertising. The campaign has published prominent advertisements in The Times, including full page ads and advertisements on the front page.

The Times has run six ads paid for by supporters, including four front page ads between August and September. The paper featured a full-page ad on July 9 and a half-page ad on July 23 calling for the council to place the bond before voters.

Friends of Downtown Tigard YMCA paid $3,465 for three of the front page ads, as well as four future advertisements that are scheduled to be printed over the next several weeks.

Another supporter of the YMCA paid more than $2,000 for additional front page and inside ads that ran earlier this year. Those ads are identical to ones used by the vote “yes” campaign.

None of those expenses have been disclosed to the Secretary of State’s office as of The Times’ press deadline, Sept. 21.

Iford told The Times on Tuesday that the lack of disclosures was due to a clerical error, and said that the campaign’s treasurer had trouble with the state’s website.

“This is not a matter of ethics,” he said. “I’m actually very grateful to Mr. Arditi for filing this, because otherwise we would not have known about it. He did us a big favor.”

To date, the campaign has raised $22,300, Iford claimed.

Those donations have come from two donors, Iford said — a $4,000 donation from Gray and an $18,300 donation from the YMCA-Columbia Willamette, the Portland-based arm of the national organization which operates facilities in Beaverton and Sherwood.

Neither donation are listed on the campaign’s financial records. ORESTAR lists only a $5,000 donation from Gray, not $4,000.

The YMCA's contribution isn't surprising. No operator has officially been declared for the rec center, but supporters of the bond expect that operator to be the YMCA of Columbia-Willamette, the Portland-based arm of the national organization which operates facilities in Beaverton and Sherwood.

No formal agreement has been reached between the city and the YMCA, but city officials have said for months that the YMCA is likely the best agency to run the center because Tigard does not have a recreation program to take on the responsibility.

Iford said that the campaign has already spent more than $21,500 of that money on voters pamphlet statements, advertising in The Times, ads in the program for the Tigard High School football team and in printing costs for posters.

None of those expenses are included in the financial information disclosed to the Secretary of State’s office, either.

As of The Times’ press deadline on Sept. 23, the financial records with the Secretary of State's office have not been updated, but Iford told The Times that they would be "soon."

By Geoff Pursinger
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