Mystery Group in Oregon Sends Anti-Democrat Mail, Prepares Web Ads
Julia Shumway / Oregon Capital Chronicle
Earlier this month, some Oregon voters began receiving glossy mail blaming Governor Kate Brown and the “Democrat-controlled state legislature” for “skyrocketing oil prices.” ‘petrol’ and the ‘uncontrollable cost of living’.
A website containing two short videos claiming that policies enacted by legislative Democrats led to increased crime and inflation went live around the same time.
The mailers, website and ads were all paid for by the Coalition for Safe, Healthy and Prosperous Communities – but that coalition does not exist in state campaign finances or business records.
The mystery mail and online ads come after a national Republican group named the Oregon legislature one of its top targets. Oregon remains a Democratic stronghold, but Republicans see this year as their best chance in more than a decade to gain control of a legislative chamber.
The organization is virtually nowhere to be found, though it shares a name with a newly formed national nonprofit created by three prominent Republicans with ties to the oil and gas industry. His failure to disclose his funding and spending could mean he is violating the spirit, if not the letter, of campaign finance laws.
“Some groups will do courier work, often under a 501(c)3 or maybe (c)4 designation where they say it’s not technically an election or technically falls under the rules of campaign funding,” said Ben Morris, a spokesman for the Oregon Secretary of State’s office. “It is more simply a plea, for which there are different rules. So it’s possible that’s their argument if they don’t sign up as a political action committee to report things.
Different rules for different groups
Organizations that spend money on political ads generally must file records with the secretary of state’s office showing how much they collect and spend and who benefits. The rules differ depending on the type of organization it is, Morris said.
Political action committees raise and spend money to support or oppose a candidate, election measure or political party. Within three days of their first contribution or expenditure, PACs must file a statement of organization with the state’s campaign finance database, ORESTAR, which includes their purpose and contact information.
Organizations that do not solicit contributions but spend money to support or oppose a candidate or an election measure are independent expense reportrs. They are not allowed to coordinate with campaigns and must register in ORESTAR within seven days of spending more than $250.
In a gray area are groups that say they advocate on general issues or spend to support a cause, but not something directly related to an election.
After reviewing the letters, Morris said the secretary of state’s office would need more information to find out where the coalition stands.
Jason Kafoury, a Portland attorney and one of the leaders of an effort to strengthen state campaign finance laws, said the coalition could blur the lines of advocacy. Nonprofits with 501(c)3 status cannot get involved in politics, while those registered as 501(c)4 can advocate issues but not for or against candidates.
‘These politicians don’t do X’ sounds like the message, which is a cute way to address the issue,” he said.
A ballot initiative proposed by Kafoury and other supporters of campaign finance reform this year would have required each group sending out political mail to list its top five donors on the ad. He did not make it to the ballot, but supporters plan to try again in 2024.
Hard to find
Those hiding behind direct mail and video ads have made themselves hard to find. Mailers list an address, but it’s a postal annex in Portland where anyone can pay to rent a mailbox.
The website does not contain any contact information. The whois search engine shows that a person named “Jim Balentine” who works for a company called “MWP” in Atlanta, Georgia registered this domain on July 12.
The Georgia Corporations Division has no record of a Jim Balentine. It lists a number of businesses that use the “MWP” acronym, including painters, photographers, and property management companies.
But only one, Atlanta-based MWPolitical, does the trick. It is a political digital strategy company founded by Jim Valentine.
Valentine supports the Republicans, according to his social media posts. And SEAL, a political action committee that backs conservative veterans, paid his company more than $1.8 million in 2020.
A political action committee supporting Oregon Republican Knute Buehler in his 2020 congressional bid also donated $500 to MWPolitical, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Jessica Gomez received a refund of nearly $20,000. $ in March for a canceled ad buy, according to state and federal campaign finance records.
Valentine did not return a call or text Thursday.
The coalition shares a name with Washington, DC 501(c)4 which opened last year, according to the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS does not yet have available copies of the organization’s Form 990 returns, the documents that tax-exempt nonprofits must file each year.
But DC’s corporate registry lists the organization and three directors, all of whom are longtime Republican operatives with ties to the oil and gas industry.
Jeff Berkowitz, the only one whose contact information is publicly available, was previously the Republican National Committee’s chief researcher and now runs his own opposition research firm. His spokesperson did not respond to an email Thursday.
Alby Modiano, another director, was president of the US Oil and Gas Association from 1993 until at least 2018, although he now describes himself as the former president. And the latest director, Marc Himmelstein, is a longtime lobbyist for the energy industry.
Oliver Muggli, executive director of the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund, called the mystery senders “rather disturbing.” The Senate Democratic Leadership Fund, a political action committee that supports Democratic state senators and candidates for the Senate, discloses its fundraising and spending, as do other political action committees.
“I think they’re counting on Oregonians to be duped by that kind of spending, and I think Oregonians won’t be duped by DC’s corporate interests disguising themselves to try to appear more popular,” he said. -he declares.