Campaign Finance: Contribution and Disclosure Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Disclaimer: These Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) address common questions about Multnomah County’s Contribution limits and disclosure requirements in Multnomah County Candidate Elections, but do not address any other local, state, or federal requirements.  These FAQs are not legal advice. For exact language and requirements, please view the Multnomah County Charter, Code and Rules. If you do not find the answers to your questions after reviewing the Charter, Code, Rules, and content below, please contact campaignfinance@multco.us or 503.988.6858 and we will respond to you as quickly as possible.


First, when do I become a Multnomah County candidate? 

  • I am considering becoming a Candidate for a Multnomah County elected office. At what point do I become a Candidate who would be required to abide by Multnomah County’s Contribution limits and disclosure provisions?
    • A person becomes a Candidate who is subject to Multnomah County’s Contribution limits and disclosure requirements when the person:
      • Files their Candidate Filing form (SEL 101) with the Elections Director for one of the elected public offices of Multnomah County for an upcoming election; or 
      • Identifies an elected public office of Multnomah County for an upcoming election in an original or amended Statement of Organization for a Candidate Committee; or
      • Declares their candidacy for an elected public office of Multnomah County for an upcoming election on a publicly accessible source, which includes, but is not limited to, public posts on social media; publicly accessible websites, blogs, or message boards; statements made by the Individual published by news media; television and print ads; and billboards; or
      • Expresses consent to be named as a candidate for nomination or election to an elected public office of Multnomah County for an upcoming election including expressing consent through written communications or recorded statements affirming the Individual’s agreement to participate as a candidate for an elected public office of Multnomah County for an upcoming election, including as a write-in candidate; or
      • Solicits or receives and accepts a Contribution, makes an Expenditure, or gives consent to an Individual or Entity to solicit or receive and accept a Contribution or make an Expenditure on the Individual’s behalf to secure nomination or election for an upcoming election to an elected public office of Multnomah County; or
      • Is an officeholder for one of the elected public offices of Multnomah County and is the subject of a recall petition that has been completed and filed.
    • However, an Individual who has filed a Candidate Filing Withdrawal form (SEL 150) for an upcoming election for one of the elected public offices of Multnomah County is no longer a Candidate subject to the Contribution limits and disclosure requirements.

CONTRIBUTION LIMITS

  • What are Multnomah County’s campaign Contribution limits?
    • According to Multnomah County Code Sec. 5.201, Candidates and Candidate Committees may only accept Contributions of $500 or less from Individuals and Political Committees. 
    • The one exception to that limit is for Small Donor Committees, which are a special kind of Political Committee recognized in Multnomah County Charter and Code that does not accept Contributions of more than $101 per Individual contributor per calendar year.  Small Donor Committees have no limit to how much they can contribute to a Candidate or Candidate Committee.
    • Contributions of any amount from other Entities (corporations, partnerships, LLCs, and other forms of organizations that create a legal entity separate from an Individual) to Candidates or their Candidate Committees are prohibited. 
       
  • Do these Contribution limits apply to ballot measures, too?
    • No. The Contribution limits apply only to Contributions to Candidates and Candidate Committees involved in Multnomah County Candidate Elections, meaning elections for County Chair, County Commissioner, Auditor, and Sheriff.
       
  • Who is held responsible for ensuring the $500 contribution limits are not violated - the Candidate’s campaign or the donor?
    • Under the County’s campaign finance regulations, both the contributor and the Candidate or the Candidate Committee are liable for transactions that exceed the Contribution limits. 
    • For example: An Individual contributor may be found in violation for making more than the allowed Contribution to one Candidate’s Candidate Committee and the Candidate’s Candidate Committee may also be found in violation for accepting such a Contribution. 
    • Contributor safe harbor: If a donor has made a Contribution that would violate the Contribution limit, the donor may request, in writing, the return of their excess Contribution from the Candidate or their Candidate Committee within 30 days of the Contribution. Evidence of such a communication may be used in seeking safe harbor from civil penalties if it is the donor’s first violation during an Election Cycle. 
    • Candidate/Candidate Committee safe harbor: Similarly, if a Candidate or their Candidate Committee returns or declines funds that would be in violation of the Contribution limits within the timeframes outlined below, then the funds will not be deemed “received” and will not be considered to have violated the Contribution limits.
      • Except as provided below, a Candidate or Candidate Committee must return the excess Contribution within 30 calendar days of the date of receipt to be eligible for the safe harbor.
      • However, as an election gets closer, the eligible period for returning or declining excess Contributions shortens.  During the period beginning 42 calendar days before a primary, general, recall, or special election, a Candidate or Candidate Committee must return the excess Contribution within 7 calendar days of the date of receipt to be eligible for the safe harbor.
         
  • I would like to personally donate to multiple Multnomah County Candidates. If I donate $500 to one Candidate’s Candidate Committee, may I contribute additional funds to a different Candidate during the same Election Cycle?
    • Yes. The Contribution limit applies to an Individual’s aggregate Contributions to a particular Multnomah County Candidate either through direct Contributions to the Candidate or through Contributions to a Candidate’s Candidate Committee during the Election Cycle. 
    • For Example: Contributor A may not contribute more than $500 in the same Election Cycle (which includes both the primary and general elections) to Candidate A. However, Contributor A may contribute $500 to Candidate A and an additional $500 to Candidate B during the same Election Cycle.
       
  • Are loans and loan forgiveness subject to the Contribution limits?
    • The definition of a “Contribution” includes a “loan” and “forgiving of indebtedness.” Therefore making or forgiving a loan over $500 to a Candidate or Candidate Committee is prohibited under the County’s established Contribution limits. 
    • There is a very narrow exception for certain loans made by certain financial institutions.  
    • However, anything of value provided by a Candidate to their own Candidate Committee or otherwise provided by a Candidate to support their own election or nomination to an elected public office of Multnomah County is not considered a Contribution for purposes of the County’s Contribution limits, and therefore would not be subject to the limits.
       
  • Are in-kind contributions subject to the Contribution limits?
    • The definition of a “Contribution” includes “services other than personal services for which no compensation is asked or given, supplies, equipment or any other thing of value,” all of which are commonly known as in-kind contributions. Unless explicitly excluded from the definition of “Contribution” in County Code, in-kind contributions are considered a Contribution subject to the $500 limit. 
    • Examples of in-kind contributions that are not subject to the $500 Contribution limit include:
      • Rooms, phones, and internet access provided for use by a Candidate Committee free or at a reduced charge;
      • A written news story, commentary or editorial distributed through the facilities of a broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine or other regularly published publication, unless a Political Committee owns the facility;
      • An Individual’s use of their own personal residence, including a community room associated with their residence, to conduct a reception for a Candidate and the Individual’s cost of invitations, food and beverages provided;
      • A vendor’s sale of food and beverages for use in a Candidate’s campaign at a charge less than the normal charge, if the charge is at least equal to the cost of the food or beverages to the vendor;
      • Any unreimbursed payment for travel expenses an Individual makes on behalf of the Candidate.
         
  • I’m a Candidate (please see definition of candidate) running for a Multnomah County elected office, what exactly do I need to disclose on my campaign Communications?
    • If the Communication is funded solely by your Candidate Committee, and is not otherwise exempt from disclosure (e.g., funded with a total of $304 or less), you must disclose that your Candidate Committee funded the Communication, e.g., “Paid for by Friends of Candidate X.”
    • The Candidate Committee must also disclose its top 5 Dominant Contributors in the current Election Cycle.  
      • Here, Dominant Contributors would be Individuals or Entities that had contributed more than $1,014 during the Election Cycle to the Candidate Committee. If no Individual or Entity contributed more than $1,014 to the Candidate Committee during the Election Cycle, no additional disclosure would be required.
      • If the Candidate Committee is complying with the Contribution limits, the only potential Dominant Contributors would be Small Donor Committees, which can give unlimited amounts.  
      • If a Small Donor Committee is one of the Candidate Committee’s Dominant Contributors, the Communication must include the name of the Small Donor Committee.  
      • Although the disclosure for some Dominant Contributors must include the types of businesses from which they have obtained a majority of their income over the previous five years, because a Small Donor Committee must obtain its income from Individuals, rather than from businesses, that requirement does not apply to Small Donor Committees.
    • If the Communication is funded solely by you as a Candidate (independent of your Candidate Committee and campaign funds), then no disclosure is required because the Communication would not be funded with Contributions or Independent Expenditures.
       
  • What type of items are exempt from Multnomah County’s disclosure requirements?
    • The following items are exempt from Multnomah County’s campaign disclosure requirements:
      • Bumper stickers
      • Signs smaller than six square feet
      • Small items worn or carried by Individuals, such as buttons or stickers
      • 500 or fewer substantially similar flyers or other pieces of literature distributed in any 10-business day period 
      • Other communications funded through a de minimis amount of $304 or less
         
  • If a Candidate for Multnomah County elected office gives and/or loans themselves or their campaign over $1014, does that funding make them a Dominant Contributor subject to the disclosure rules for top five Dominant Contributors? 
    • No. Anything of value provided by a Candidate to their own Candidate Committee or otherwise provided by a Candidate to support their own election or nomination to an elected public office of Multnomah County is not considered a Contribution for purposes of the County’s campaign finance regulations and therefore does not need to be disclosed through the Dominant Contributor requirements.
       
  • My Political Committee, which is not a Multnomah County Candidate Committee, funded a campaign Communication with general pooled funds received from various sources. What is the disclosure requirement on these types of Communications?
    • First, the Political Committee should list its own name as paying for the Communication. An example of such Disclosure would be, “Paid for by Friends of Good Government.” 
    • Second, if the Political Committee is a Dominant Independent Spender, meaning it has spent more than $1,014 during the Election Cycle to support or oppose the particular Candidate, and is making an Independent Expenditure, then it must also list the types of businesses from which the Political Committee has obtained a majority of income over the previous 5 years.  
      • The types of businesses must be identified using the name associated with the businesses’ 6-digit code of the North American Industry Classification System.  
      • For example, if a Political Committee named Friends of Good Government obtained a majority of its income over the past 5 years from the company Super Sports, which manufactures shoes, this part of the disclosure might say, “Paid for by Friends of Good Government (Footwear Manufacturing).”
    • Third, the Political Committee should also list its five largest contributors who donated more than $1,014 during the Election Cycle to the Political Committee (known as “Dominant Contributors”) as follows:
      • For each of the Political Committee’s top 5 Dominant Contributors:
        • List the name of the Individual or Entity 
        • For any Entity that is a Dominant Contributor, list the types of  businesses where each listed Entity has obtained a majority of income over the previous five years, with each business identified by the name associated with its six-digit code from the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).
        • If more than 5 Individuals or Entities qualify as the largest Dominant Contributors, i.e., there is a tie, the Political Committee is required to disclose the 5 applicable Individuals or Entities whose contributions were made closest to the date of initial printing or transmission of the Communication.  For example, if 15 different Individuals are the largest contributors to a Political Committee, and they each gave $5,000 to the Political Committee, the Political Committee would disclose the names of the 5 people who gave their $5,000 closest to the date the ad was printed.
    • Fourth, if any of the five Dominant Contributors is a Political Committee or nonprofit, another level of disclosure is required.  For each Political Committee or nonprofit that is a Dominant Contributor, the disclosure must also include the top three funders who donated more than $1,014 during the Election Cycle to that Political Committee or nonprofit. However, that requirement to disclose the top three funders does not apply to a Small Donor Committee.
       
  • I am wondering if my campaign Communication will comply with the County’s disclosure regulations. Will your office review my ad before it’s distributed?
    • No, however, the Elections Division can provide general information about how the County is implementing the requirements. For specific legal advice or formal opinions, all Candidates, campaigns, and donors are individually responsible for compliance and should seek outside legal advice.
       
  • I have campaign Social Media accounts, do I need to list my funding sources on every post?
    • It depends on whether the post includes professionally-produced Communications, and the amount of funding used to provide or present the post.
    • If the post was funded using a total of $304 or less, no disclosure is required.
    • If that exemption does not apply, the County’s Administrative Rules outline a few different ways to satisfy the disclosure requirements on social media.
      • Funder(s) Listed with Active Link to Website for Additional Disclosures. One option is for each Communication on social media to (1) identify in the Communication who paid for it and (2) include an active link to a website with any additional required disclosures, such as the list of Dominant Contributors.  The disclosures on the separate website must be easily accessible and prominently displayed.  Note that different rules apply for professionally-produced Communications, as outlined below.
      • Static Location.  A second option is to list all required disclosures in a static location, such as a biography or profile section of a Social Media account used for campaign Communications.  If the static page of a Social Media account is character limited in a way that prevents full compliance with the disclosure provisions on that static page, then the disclosure requirements can be met by using the static page to provide an active link to a website with all required disclosure information, if the information on that linked website is easily accessible and prominently displayed.   When disclosures are included in a static location, disclosures are not required in the text portion of every Communication, such as in every text-based Tweet, unless the Communication includes professionally-produced material.
      • Professionally-Produced Material.  If you publish a professionally-produced Communication (such as a video advertisement, audio, infographic, or photo) via Social Media, different requirements apply and you should list the funding sources for that professionally-produced Communication as required on the Communication.
         
  • How often should I update my required disclosure information on my campaign’s website and Social Media accounts?
    • Generally, disclosures must be current to within 10 business days of printing the Communication that requires disclosure, but audio and video Communications must generally have disclosures that are current to within five business days of their transmission. It is recommended that disclosures be dated to ensure timeliness.
       
  • I am not affiliated with a campaign. However, I want to produce communication pieces supporting my preferred candidate or opposing other candidates. Do I need to comply with the County disclosure requirements?
    • Yes. Multnomah County Code Sec. 5.203 states, “Each Communication to voters related to a Multnomah County Candidate Election will Prominently Disclose the true original sources of the Contributions and/or Independent Expenditures used to fund the Communication.”  Except for exempt Communications, such as those funded with $304 or less, that rule applies to all Communications related to Multnomah County Candidate Elections, regardless of whether the person or entity funding the Communication is affiliated with a campaign.

ENFORCEMENT

  • How are County campaign finance laws enforced?
    • The County’s campaign finance laws are enforced through a complaint-driven process implemented by the Multnomah County Elections Division.
       
  • I want to report a violation of the County’s campaign finance requirements, how do I do it?
    • If you believe you have information about a violation, please fill out an official complaint form using our Campaign Finance and Disclosure Complaint Form, submit by email or mail a copy of the form to the Elections Office at: Campaign Finance Complaints, Multnomah County Elections Division, 1040 SE Morrison St, Portland, OR 97214. 
    • Please note, anonymous complaints will not be accepted. If the complaint form is complete, our office will investigate according to the regulation requirements. If necessary, the County Elections Office may contact you for additional information.
    • After reviewing the complaint form, if you have questions about how to submit a complaint please contact the Elections Division at campaignfinance@multco.us.
       
  • What are the penalties for Candidates’ campaigns, Individuals, or Entities found to be in violation of the County’s campaign finance requirements?
    • For a first violation in an Election Cycle, the Director of the Multnomah County Elections Division has the discretion to issue a letter of education. 
    • After the first violation, the Director will issue a civil penalty that is two times the amount of the unlawful Contribution, Expenditure, or Independent Expenditure. 
    • For each subsequent violation in the Election Cycle, the civil penalty multiplier will increase by a factor of one, but will not exceed 20. For example, for the third violation by an Individual in the Election Cycle, the civil penalty will be three times the amount of the unlawful Contribution, Expenditure or Independent Expenditure.
    • For purposes of the disclosure requirements, the amount of an unlawful Contribution, Expenditure, or Independent Expenditure is the amount that each Individual or Entity uses to fund a Communication that does not comply with the disclosure requirements.
    • Any violations that do not involve an unlawful Contribution, Expenditure, or Independent Expenditure may result in issuance of a letter of education.
       
  • I want to report a violation of state elections laws, where do I go?
    • Violations of state elections law should be directed to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office. Complaints may be filed:
      • Electronically by scanning the complaint and any related evidence, attaching the scanned documents to an email, and emailing the scanned documents to elections.sos@oregon.gov​ or,
      • By mailing the complaint and all relevant documentation to 255 Capitol St. NE Suite 501, Salem, OR 97310-1342

GENERAL/MISCELLANEOUS

  • Who oversees and enforces the County campaign finance regulations?
    • The County Elections Division oversees and enforces these regulations. The Division investigates complaints and publishes decisions regarding alleged violations on our website.
  • Candidates are prohibited from accepting more than $500 from Individuals or Political Committees during an Election Cycle, and Communications to voters must include the top five Dominant Contributors and Dominant Independent Spenders based on their funding or spending per Election Cycle. When does an Election Cycle start and end?
    • The Election Cycle for an elected public office of Multnomah County starts at 12:01 a.m. the day after the election at which a Multnomah County Candidate is elected to office and runs until midnight on the day of the next election where a Candidate is elected to that same office.  Because Multnomah County Candidates can be elected in a May primary if they receive more than 50 percent of the vote, an Election Cycle may end in May or November.
    • If there is a special election to fill a vacancy, that special election will have its own Election Cycle starting when the Multnomah County Board calls for the special election and running through the election, inclusive of any special election runoff.
    • For details, please see County Candidate Election Cycles.
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  • How do I find out who contributed to a particular Candidate?
    • The Oregon Secretary of State maintains the Oregon Elections System for Tracking and Reporting (ORESTAR) database. Effective January 1, 2007, the public can search for specific statements of organization, contributions, expenditures, and campaign finance activities by candidate committees or political committees. For additional guidance on how to search in ORESTAR, see the Secretary of State's latest Campaign Finance Manual or visit the state’s website.
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