Oregon Republican candidate poses with Obama in ‘misleading’ ads

Oregon Republican congressional candidate Alek Skarlatos has been running ads about how he was praised by President Barack Obama – and the former president wants him to stop.

Skarlatos, a former Army National Guardsman, met Obama in 2015, after Skarlatos and friends Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler stopped a terrorist on a Paris-bound train. At the time, Obama said the three “represent the very best of America.”

Now, seven years later, Skarlatos is the Republican nominee in Oregon’s 4th Congressional District, where past elections show Democrat and state labor commissioner Val Hoyle holds a slight advantage. Obama features in at least three of his television ads as Skarlatos tries to appeal to nonaffiliated and Democratic voters.

An Obama adviser called those ads misleading, noting Skarlatos opposed several of the Obama administration’s biggest priorities. During his 2020 campaign against Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon,, Skarlatos repeatedly called to repeal Obama’s signature health care law, the Affordable Care Act. He also said it was “up for debate” whether humans contributed to climate change.

“Alek Skarlatos’ ads are purposely misleading,” said Hannah Hankins, Obama’s communications director. “Skarlatos has made clear he wants to roll back progress that President Obama delivered on – from the ACA to climate change – showing he is deeply out of step with Obama’s vision.”

Skarlatos’ campaign manager, Ross Purgason, said in a statement to the Capital Chronicle that Skarlatos appreciated Obama and his kind words, as well as Obama’s decision to award Skarlatos the Soldier’s Medal, which recognizes Army members for acts of heroism that didn’t involve actual conflict with an enemy.

“It’s sad that partisans would try and make that a bad thing – and that sort of politics is exactly why we need to bring balance to Washington,” Purgason said.

Along with featuring Obama and his defense secretary at the time, Ash Carter, Skarlatos’ general election ads include promises to protect women’s health care, invest in rural health access and support increases to the minimum wage.

During his 2020 campaign, Skarlatos said the U.S. Supreme Court should “go for it” if it could overturn Roe v. Wade and the federal right to abortion. He no longer mentions abortion on the campaign trail, though a national anti-abortion group recently spent $8,000 on mailers urging abortion opponents to vote for him.

He said he didn’t believe in a federal minimum wage and that Oregon’s state minimum wage was already high enough during a 2020 debate when the standard rate was $12 an hour. This July, in a guest column in the Corvallis Gazette-Times, Skarlatos wrote that increasing the state minimum wage, which is now $13.50 an hour, was the “right decision.”

His ads also address comments he made on a podcast in 2018 about choking women during sex. Hoyle featured those comments, first reported by the Capital Chronicle, in her own campaign ads. Skarlatos referred to the comments as “immature and hurtful” and a “dumb mistake” in ads where he accused Hoyle of “slinging mud.”

DeFazio said in a statement to the Capital Chronicle that Skarlatos “made no bones about being a right-wing extremist” when they faced each other in 2020.

“His disingenuous about-face is nothing more than a political stunt engineered by Republicans who know their draconian ideas are too unpopular to get them elected,” DeFazio continued. “I have confidence in Oregonians and I know they’ll see Mr. Skarlatos for exactly what he is: a grifter who will say anything to get elected.”

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Biden expresses optimism as he campaigns in Portland

With control of the Oregon governorship and three congressional districts at stake, President Joe Biden visited Portland this weekend to convince Oregonians that his administration’s policies will lower costs for average voters despite record inflation.

Biden spoke to a crowd at the East Portland Community Center on Saturday about the Inflation Reduction Act, the $750 billion climate, health care and tax package passed by Democrats with no Republican votes this summer. He also headlined a $500-a-plate fundraiser for Tina Kotek, the Democratic nominee in a tough race for governor, and joined local Democrats as they made calls for Kotek’s campaign.

Biden’s visit came at a critical time, as Kotek struggles to continue Democratic control in an unexpectedly challenging election. Oregon has only elected Democrats as governor since 1986, but growing discontent with the status quo and a well-funded nonaffiliated candidate, former Democratic state Sen. Betsy Johnson, give Republican Christine Drazan a better shot at the governorship than Republicans have had in decades.

For the first time this election cycle, political forecasting website FiveThirtyEight gave Drazan better odds than Kotek at winning the governor’s race shortly before Biden spoke Saturday afternoon: 50 in 100, compared to 49 in 100 for Kotek and 1 in 100 for Johnson.

Before a crowd of Democratic volunteers in Portland on Friday night, Biden urged voters to remember how important the race for governor was.

“What a governor does matters,” Biden said. “It matters. It matters, it matters, it matters.”

It’s not only Kotek facing a more difficult election than Democrats typically do in Oregon – Democratic congressional nominees Val Hoyle, Jamie McLeod-Skinner and Andrea Salinas are also each running tough races against well-funded Republicans in Oregon’s 4th, 5th and 6th congressional districts. Hoyle and McLeod-Skinner are seeking to succeed two outgoing Democratic representatives, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader, while the 6th District is new this cycle.

The East Portland Community Center filled with people to hear President Joe Biden on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2022. (Julia Shumway/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Biden’s two campaign events were restricted to a traveling pool of national reporters who cover the White House, with no Oregon reporters allowed. Pool notes, transcripts of his remarks provided by the White House and social media posts from Oregon Democratic volunteers described his visit.

Biden landed in Portland shortly before 6:30 p.m. Friday and was greeted by Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, both Democrats. He handed Bonamici a cupcake for her birthday, then took off for a union hall of SEIU, Service Employees International Union, to join Oregon Democratic volunteers as they phone-banked for Kotek and other Democrats.

Merkley, Bonamici, Kotek and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, joined him at the hall. Biden walked in with a box of donuts and ate a piece of a chocolate long john and an entire glazed donut while phone-banking, according to pool reports.

“I’m a little bit of a cockeyed optimist,” Biden told volunteers. “I realize that. But the truth of the matter is I’ve never been more optimistic about America’s prospects.”

He spent about 20 minutes on the phone with voters, including taking another volunteer’s headset at one point. That volunteer was talking to a voter who wasn’t sure whether he was going to vote this year, a Democratic Party staffer tweeted.

After his remarks Saturday afternoon, he was scheduled to headline a fundraiser for Kotek at the Pacific Northwest Carpenters Institute. With an entry cost of $500, people who contributed $10,000 or more could take a picture with Biden. All attendees had to be vaccinated and test negative for Covid on site or within the past 24 hours.

Biden’s travel comes as his approval ratings hit new lows. The most recent poll from Morning Consult, which regularly surveys Americans on their thoughts on the president, found that more voters disapprove than approve of Biden in 41 of 50 states. Oregon, Utah, Alaska and Hawaii saw the largest decline in his net approval rating since the summer.

In Oregon, 54% of poll respondents said they disapproved of his performance, compared to just 41% who approved. The same poll showed 56% of Oregon voters disapproved of Gov. Kate Brown, while only 40% approved – she has the worst approval ratings in the country.

Brown left Friday for a trade mission in Japan and South Korea and wasn’t there to greet Biden. She has endorsed Kotek but has largely stayed away from the campaign trail as Kotek attempts to dismiss criticism that she’ll be Brown 2.0.

State Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, emphasized Biden’s low approval ratings in statements criticizing his visit.

“We’re surprised anyone would want to be seen with the President who with the help of his Democrat colleagues caused the highest gas prices in Oregon history,” Knopp said.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Tough-on-crime GOP candidate handcuffed for DUI and drug charges

In ads and political mailers, Republican congressional hopeful Mike Erickson boasts of his support for police and pledges to vote against any bills that are “soft on crime.”

He claims that his Democratic opponent in Oregon’s new 6th Congressional District, state Rep. Andrea Salinas, wants to make it harder for police to do their jobs and easier to get away with theft, dangerous driving and drug use.

Left unmentioned: Erickson’s 2016 arrest and guilty plea for driving under the influence, and a felony charge for possessing oxycodone that wasn’t prescribed to him. The drug charges were dropped as a condition of his pleading guilty to the DUI, and he had the DUI dismissed by going through a one-year diversion program.

Salinas highlighted Erickson’s DUI arrest and drug charges in a 30-second spot, but details of the incident have not been fully reported before. The Capital Chronicle obtained a DUI report detailing Erickson’s arrest.

In a statement to the Capital Chronicle, Erickson, 59, said he “made a mistake” in driving under the influence. He said the oxycodone was his wife’s, and that he was holding it for her along with a lipstick and a compact because she wasn’t carrying a purse.

“I have never used drugs, oxycodone, or even marijuana and have been extremely careful since,” he said. “The negative ads against me, run by Andrea Salinas, are full of lies and misleading images. She will say and do anything to get elected and distract from her record.”

This is Erickson’s third run for Congress, after losing to incumbent Democrat Darlene Hooley in 2006 and U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, in 2008. His 2008 campaign imploded following reports about Erickson, who campaigned on family values, driving a girlfriend to an abortion clinic and giving her $300 to pay for the procedure.

The election is closer this year, though national political analysts give Salinas a slight edge in the new district that encompasses Polk and Yamhill counties, as well as the city of Salem and part of Beaverton.

This time around, Erickson based his campaign around a “tough on crime” message. His ads and mailers prominently feature endorsements from retired law enforcement officials and describe him as the son of a career police officer.

He also points to Salinas’ legislative record, including her vote for an unsuccessful 2021 bill that would have allowed people convicted of felonies to vote from prison, as well as for a 2022 law that prohibits police from stopping drivers for broken lights that don’t affect driving safety.

In response to questions from the Capital Chronicle, Erickson’s campaign sent three pages of notes about Salinas’ legislative record and her past comments about “reimagining” law enforcement.

Erickson has also called for repealing Measure 110, passed by voters in 2020, which decriminalized the possession of small amounts of hard drugs. The Legislature, not Congress, has the authority to amend the voter-approved law.

“We’re a welcome mat to drug users, drug dealers, and rampant crime in this state,” he said during an interview on Portland-based TV station KOIN this spring. “Our DAs and everybody else does not prosecute them, they give them a slap on the wrist. That’s gotta change.”

The DUI

Around 1:40 a.m. on Sept. 17, 2016, Oregon State Police trooper Jacob Ferrer was patrolling in Hood River when he saw a man stumble out of the Trillium Cafe and climb into the driver’s seat of a Ford truck across the street, according to court records and the DUI report.

Ferrer watched as the driver, later identified as Erickson, swerved in and out of a street parking area, causing the car behind him to brake, then turn left, roll through a stop sign, swerve into the opposite travel lane and make another left turn without signaling.

The trooper turned on his lights to stop Erickson, and he pulled over in the driveway of a nearby house. Erickson opened his car door before fully parking, according to the report, and walked toward Ferrer.

“Erickson stood abnormally close to me, which in my experience is quite common with subjects who are under the influence of intoxicants, especially alcohol,” the report said. “Immediately, I could detect an overwhelming odor of alcohol coming from Erickson’s breath as I was informing him of my name, my employer and that the conversation was recorded.”

Erickson’s speech was slurred and his eyes were bloodshot and watery, but he denied being intoxicated or having a reason to have driven erratically, the report said. When Ferrer asked him to retrieve his driver’s license, Erickson’s wife climbed out of the truck and told him to “just get in the house,” according to the report.

It took Erickson a long time to go through his wallet, and he eventually handed over his insurance card, but not his license. He finally produced the license after being reminded, the report said.

He told Ferrer that he had had two 16-ounce IPAs at a wedding, saying his last was an hour ago and the first was three hours earlier. He couldn’t remember what bar he had been at, but eventually recalled that his last drink was at the Trillium Cafe.

Failed sobriety tests

Erickson struggled through field sobriety tests, not responding to directions about where to stand and how to walk.

Officers ask people suspected of driving while impaired to take nine steps in a straight line, touching heel to toe, then turn on one foot and return in the opposite direction. If suspects start too soon, take the wrong number of steps, use their arms to balance, stop walking or step off the line on which they’re walking, it can be a sign of impairment.

Erickson took 11 steps out, stepping out of line on his third and fourth steps, stumbled as he turned and raised his left arm to balance on his way back, according to the report.

He also failed a balancing test in which he was supposed to stand on one foot with the other about 6 inches off the ground and his arms at his sides for 30 seconds. According to the report, Erickson immediately lifted both arms and held them out and began counting.

“On Erickson’s count of nine, he put his foot down,” the report said. “I reminded Erickson that I would be telling him to stop the test and he told me that he thought he was only supposed to count to four. I reminded Erickson that he had put his foot down on his count of ‘nine.’”

He started counting again, set his foot down again after two seconds and swayed. He then asked Ferrer “You said four?”

The arrest

Ferrer handcuffed Erickson and informed him he was under arrest. At the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office, Ferrer returned Erickson’s cell phone so he could call his attorney. He couldn’t find the number, asked to go outside to get better phone coverage and told Ferrer to “Google” his attorney, though Erickson didn’t think any of the results were his attorney.

Erickson agreed to a breath test but didn’t follow instructions, blowing around the mouthpiece of the test.

“Erickson was either so intoxicated he could not understand the simple instructions, or he was purposely trying to avoid providing a sample,” the report said. “He made multiple attempts before the machine registered a deficient sample. I warned Erickson that if the machine registered a deficient sample again, I would count it as a refusal.”

Refusing a breath, blood or urine test when suspected of driving under the influence carries a license suspension of one year. Erickson ultimately blew 0.12% – over the legal limit of .08%.

He insisted it was wrong and that he wanted to get his blood drawn. Ferrer took Erickson to the local emergency room, where he was told he would need to pay $90 within three days.

“Erickson told me he had no cash and asked me to ‘bring him an ATM,’” the report said.

Drug charges

While Erickson was being booked into Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facilities after his blood draw, deputies found an oxycodone blister pack with one 5 mg pill and another empty package in his wallet.

He told police he didn’t have a prescription, and that he received the drug from his wife, who is a nurse, according to the report.

In December 2016, a Hood River deputy district attorney agreed to drop felony charges for possessing a controlled substance in exchange for Erickson’s guilty plea for driving under the influence, according to his plea agreement.

The DUI charges were dismissed after Erickson completed a one-year diversion program. He had to attend a two-hour panel hearing from victims of intoxicated drivers and was barred from visiting bars or consuming alcohol, marijuana or other controlled substances. He also had an ignition interlock device, which confirms a driver has no alcohol on their breath before starting a vehicle, installed on his car for one year.

Erickson did not attend the victim impact panel until January 2018, after receiving a warning from the judge that he was violating the terms of the diversion.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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GOP candidate repeatedly 'liked' photos of underage girls and joked about choking women

Alek Skarlatos, a Republican candidate for Congress in a competitive Oregon district, repeatedly “liked” photos of underage girls in bikinis on Instagram and joked about strangling women on a podcast shortly before beginning his political career four years ago.

Skarlatos, 29, is a former Oregon National Guardsman who parlayed his recognition for helping stop a terrorist on an Paris-bound train in 2015 into multiple reality show appearances and two previous unsuccessful campaigns for Congress and the Douglas County Commission.

He faces Democrat Val Hoyle, the current commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries, in a race for Oregon’s 4th Congressional District, currently represented by Democrat Peter DeFazio. The district, which includes Eugene and most of southwest Oregon, is one of three targeted by both national political parties.

Skarlatos’ comments about choking women were on a podcast in 2018 to promote a Clint Eastwood movie dramatization of the thwarted train attack. Skarlatos appeared as himself in the film.

In March 2018, two months before Skarlatos launched his campaign for Douglas County Commission, he and film co-star Spencer Stone, a former Air Force staff sergeant who also helped stop the terrorist attack, appeared on the podcast “Drinkin’ Bros.” For 45 minutes, the pair and two podcast hosts discussed the film and speculated about celebrities’ sex lives, and Skarlatos read aloud some of his messages from the dating app Tinder.

Then, the conversation turned to choking in the bedroom.

“You ever thought if you choked someone and killed them in bed what would happen?” podcast host Ross Patterson asked.

“Oh yeah,” Skarlatos responded, laughing. “Oh yeah.”

The conversation about women dying during sex continued, with Stone saying he had plans to sit in on a trial of a man charged with choking his girlfriend to death during what the defendant described as a consensual encounter. Skarlatos then referred to a 2017 Florida case in which a man argued that his girlfriend accidentally suffocated while performing oral sex, saying that the man wasn’t convicted and “got off, in more ways than one.”

Around the time of Skarlatos’s podcast appearance, the Oregon Legislature upgraded strangulation during domestic violence to a felony. Strangulation was also made a federal felony in the 2013 reauthorization of the federal Violence Against Women Act.

Academic studies have found that more than half of female college students have been choked by partners during sex and have linked an increase in strangulation attempts to depictions of choking in pornographic videos that don’t show how dangerous it is.

Earlier in the episode, Skarlatos also complained about the physical appearances of women in Roseburg, and how he had to travel elsewhere to date.

“There’s literally two attractive women in my town,” Skarlatos said.

Following a request for comment from the Capital Chronicle, Skarlatos apologized in a statement shared by his campaign.

“Looking back at the comments I made as a 24-year-old who just left the Army, I’m disappointed,” he said. “I apologize if I offended anyone.”

Within the past few months, Skarlatos has also “liked” photos of underage girls wearing bikinis and other skimpy outfits on Instagram. One such photo, posted by a then-17-year-old girl this past March, shows her in a string bikini bottom and a sweatshirt raised to display her midriff.

Since 2020, Skarlatos liked dozens of photos of teenage girls, including several in which the girls are wearing two-piece bathing suits or midriff-baring crop tops. The two youngest girls were 15 at the time Skarlatos liked their pictures, according to Instagram posts they made on their birthdays.

The Capital Chronicle reviewed screenshots of the posts and found them on Instagram to verify that Skarlatos liked them. He defended his Instagram likes in a statement.

“To imply that a ‘follow’ or a ‘like’ of social media influencers on Instagram with over 100,000 followers is inappropriate is absurd,” Skarlatos said.

Separately, the Associated Press reported Friday that Skarlatos was cleared by the Federal Election Commission of an alleged campaign finance violation relating to a nonprofit he created. Skarlatos used $93,000 left over from his 2020 campaign for Congress to create a nonprofit to advocate for veterans, then transferred $65,000 from the nonprofit to his current campaign after he decided to run again in 2021. The AP, citing a filing from the commission that’s not yet public, reported that the Federal Election Commission approved the transfer to his campaign as a refund.

As of the end of the third fundraising quarter on June 30, Skarlatos had raised more than twice as much as Hoyle, $2.57 million to her $1.12 million. District demographics and voting history favors Hoyle, and national forecasters at the Cook Political Report rate the district as “leans Democratic.”

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Betsy Johnson hired petition circulators from Craigslist to qualify for Oregon governor race

Betsy Johnson has counted on her “Betsy Brigades,” groups of volunteers circulating petitions, to gather the nearly 24,000 signatures she needs as a nonaffiliated gubernatorial candidate to make it on the November ballot.

But she also paid a Washington-based signature gathering firm more than $200,000 to collect signatures for her campaign, state campaign finance records show.

“We support job creation and giving people a real choice in elections,” spokeswoman Jennifer Sitton said in an email response to questions about the use of paid signature gatherers.

Johnson has until Tuesday, Aug. 16, to submit at least 23,744 valid signatures from Oregon voters to the Secretary of State’s Office, and she has spent the past week urging supporters to return signature sheets to her campaign office by Saturday, Aug. 13.

At least some of those signatures, though, will be gathered not by Johnson superfans but by petition circulators who may have been hired off Craigslist. Initiative & Referendum Campaign Management Services, the Washington-based firm Johnson enlisted to help her gather signatures, posted more than 75 Craigslist job ads over the past month seeking petition circulators.

The ads offered full-time pay of $1,000 weekly or part-time pay of $25 per hour.

“This is the perfect opportunity for you to get your foot in the door for an exciting, high profile, big energy and rewarding campaign,” said a sample ad from Tillamook. “Betsy Johnson is fighting the establishment and fighting for the people of Oregon with a very meaningful campaign a head (sic) of her.”

The company estimated that campaigns should budget between $3.75 and $5 per signature. Johnson’s payment should be enough for 41,000 and 55,000 signatures, using those parameters.

Most candidates for state office don’t have to collect signatures – they pay a filing fee of between $25 and $150 and compete in a primary election or nominating convention of a minor party. But candidates who run without a party affiliation need to gather signatures from voters.

People seeking to make or repeal laws through the initiative or referendum process also must collect signatures, though they must gather far more than prospective candidates and face more obstacles when paying petition circulators. This election cycle, supporters needed to gather more than 112,000 signatures for new laws created by initiative, almost 75,000 to refer laws passed by the Legislature to the ballot and more than 149,000 to amend the Oregon Constitution.

Supporters of initiatives and referendums also have to file statements with the Secretary of State’s Office indicating whether they’ll pay any petition circulators and include a bold-faced notice on petition forms stating that some circulators are paid. Candidates aren’t required to do so.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Mystery group sending anti-Democrat mailers in Oregon

Earlier this month, some Oregon voters began receiving glossy mailers blaming Gov. Kate Brown and the “Democrat-controlled state Legislature” for “soaring gas prices” and the “out-of-control cost of living.”

A website with two short videos claiming policies passed by legislative Democrats led to increases in crime and inflation went live around the same time.

The mailers, the website and the ads were all paid for by the Coalition for Safe, Healthy and Prosperous Communities – but that coalition doesn’t exist in state campaign finance or business records.

The mysterious 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 view this year as their best chance in more than a decade of taking control of a legislative chamber.

The organization is all but untraceable, though it shares a name with a newly-formed national nonprofit started by three prominent Republicans with ties to the oil and gas industry. Its failure to disclose its funding and spending could mean it’s violating the spirit, if not the letter, of state campaign finance laws.

“There are some groups that will do messaging work, often under a 501(c)3 designation or maybe a (c)4 where they say it’s not technically about an election or doesn’t technically fall within the campaign finance rules,” said Ben Morris, a spokesman for the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office. “It’s more just issue advocacy, which there are different rules for. So it’s possible that would be their argument if they’re not registering as a political action committee reporting stuff.”


Different rules for different groups

Organizations that spend money on political ads generally have to file records with the Secretary of State’s Office showing how much they raise and spend and who benefits. Rules differ depending on what type of organization it is, Morris said.

Political action committees raise and spend money to support or oppose a candidate, ballot measure or political party. Within three days of their first contribution or expenditure, PACs have to file a statement of organization with the state’s campaign finance database, ORESTAR, that includes their purpose and contact information.

Organizations that don’t seek contributions but spend money supporting or opposing a candidate or ballot measure are independent expenditure filers. They aren’t allowed to coordinate with campaigns, and they must register in ORESTAR within seven days after spending more than $250.

In a gray area are groups that say they’re doing general issue advocacy, or spending to support a cause but not something directly tied to an election.

After reviewing the mailers, Morris said the Secretary of State’s office would need more information to know where the coalition falls.

Jason Kafoury, a Portland attorney and one of the leaders of an effort to strengthen state campaign finance laws, said the coalition could be blurring the lines of issue advocacy. Nonprofits with 501(c)3 status can’t get involved in politics, while those registered as 501(c)4s can advocate on issues but not for or against candidates.

“‘These politicians aren’t doing X’ sounds like the message, which is a cute way of dealing with it,” he said.

A ballot initiative Kafoury and other campaign finance reform advocates proposed this year would have required every group sending political mail to list its top five donors on the advertisement. It didn’t make it to the ballot, but supporters plan to try again in 2024.

Some Oregon voters received these mailers from a group that hasn’t filed campaign finance records. (Submitted)

Hard to find

Whoever is behind the mailers and video ads have made themselves difficult to find. The mailers list an address, but it’s a postal annex in Portland where anyone can pay to rent a mailbox.

The website doesn’t have any contact information listed. The whois search engine shows that someone named “Jim Balentine” who works for a company called “MWP” in Atlanta, Georgia, registered that domain on July 12.

The Georgia Corporations Division doesn’t have any records of a Jim Balentine. It lists a number of businesses that use the acronym “MWP,” including painters, photographers and property management companies.

But only one, Atlanta-based MWPolitical, fits the bill. It’s a political digital strategy firm founded by Jim Valentine.

Valentine supports Republicans, according to his social media postings. And SEAL, a political action committee that backs conservative veterans, paid his firm more than $1.8 million in 2020.

A political action committee supporting Oregon Republican Knute Buehler during his 2020 run for Congress also paid MWPolitical $500, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Jessica Gomez received a nearly $20,000 reimbursement in March for a canceled ad purchase, according to state and federal campaign finance records.

Valentine did not return a call or text message on Thursday.

The coalition shares a name with Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)4 that opened last year, according to the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS doesn’t yet have any available copies of the organization’s Form 990 returns, the documents tax-exempt nonprofits must file every year.

But the D.C. corporation 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 with publicly available contact information, was formerly the chief researcher for the Republican National Committee and now runs his own opposition research firm. His spokesman did not respond to an email on Thursday.

Alby Modiano, another director, was the president of the U.S. Oil and Gas Association from 1993 until at least 2018, though he now describes himself as the former president. And the last director, Marc Himmelstein, is a longtime lobbyist for the energy industry.

Oliver Muggli, executive director of the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund, called the mystery mailers “pretty disturbing.” The Senate Democratic Leadership Fund, a political action committee that supports Democratic state senators and candidates for Senate, discloses its fundraising and spending, as do other political action committees.

“I think they’re counting on Oregonians being fooled by that sort of spending, and I think that Oregonians won’t be fooled by D.C. corporate interests disguising themselves to try to appear more grassroots,” he said.


Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

National Republicans list Oregon as top target for flipping legislative control

A national group that tries to elect down-ballot Republicans on Wednesday named Oregon one of its top targets for flipping a state legislative chamber.

The Republican State Leadership Committee in March listed Oregon as one of several liberal strongholds where it would be possible for GOP candidates to make “meaningful gains.” On Wednesday, less than a week after the national group released an internal poll showing Oregon Republicans leading on generic legislative ballots, the committee added Oregon to its list of Democratic-controlled legislatures where Republicans could seize power after the 2022 election. Generic ballots only list parties – not candidates.

Colorado, Maine, Nevada and Washington are also on the list, as is the state House in Minnesota. Republicans already control the Minnesota Senate.

Committee spokesman Zach Kraft said the Oregon Senate is a better pickup opportunity than the House, but the committee will target both chambers. Democrats now hold 37 of 60 seats in the House and 18 of 30 in the Senate.

The committee’s interest means additional spending on Oregon legislative races. The committee already gave $140,000 each to caucus political action committees for House and Senate Republicans, according to state campaign finance records.

In June, the group gave $2,500 each to incumbent GOP Sens. Bill Kennemer of Oregon City and Kim Thatcher of Keizer, as well as Senate candidates Rep. Raquel Moore-Green of Salem, Sherwood real estate broker John Velez and Medford Mayor Randy Sparacino. House candidates Cyrus Javadi, a Tigard dentist; T.J. Sullivan, a Salem insurance broker; and Adam Baker, a Gresham police officer also received $2,500 contributions.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, previously chaired by the Democratic nominee for governor Tina Kotek, has not yet spent any money on Oregon races. In the 2020 election cycle, the group gave $5,000 to the House Democrats’ political action committee and accepted $20,000 from Kotek and the Oregon Health Care Association PAC.

Democrats have controlled both chambers of the Legislature since 2013.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said the Democratic Legislative campaign committee gave money to Tina Kotek’s campaign and a health care PAC. It received money from the two groups.


Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Les Zaitz for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Man facing charges for Jan. 6 ends campaign for Oregon governor after hospitalization

A Hillsboro man facing federal criminal charges for his involvement in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has ended his campaign for governor.

Reed Christensen shared a press release dated April 14 about his decision to end his campaign in response to a Capital Chronicle article about Republican gubernatorial candidates who defended the incident.

Christensen said in a statement that he experienced a stroke on April 11 that hospitalized him. It was his second stroke in two years, he said.

“It is clear that my health is not strong enough for Oregonians to depend on,” he continued.

He told the Capital Chronicle on Monday that he doesn’t plan to endorse any other candidates.

Christensen will still appear on Republican primary ballots and in the government-issued Voters’ Pamphlet. The platform he presented in the pamphlet calls for ending Oregon’s decades-old mail voting system, banning abortions and abolishing the Oregon Education Department.

Christensen has pleaded not guilty to eight federal crimes, including assaulting, resisting or impeding two Capitol police officers and a Washington, D.C. Metropolitan police officer and engaging in physical violence and disruptive conduct in a restricted building. He’s scheduled to appear via video before a federal judge in a Washington, D.C., U.S. District Court on May 10.

His arrest warrant describes Christensen trying to remove a set of bike racks that officers used as a barrier to prevent the crowd from moving closer to the Capitol. A police officer sprayed him in the face with pepper spray, causing him to temporarily back away, according to the report.

Officers then gave him water to rinse the spray from his face, according to the report, but a few minutes later he joined a group of rioters who succeeded in removing the bike rack barriers. He burst through and hit or pushed three police officers, the warrant said.

The FBI identified him using surveillance cameras and cameras worn by officers, with help from witnesses who knew Christensen was in Portland and recognized him from footage aired on television. While Christensen pleaded not guilty to the charges, he readily admits to being present at the Capitol.

He said attending the event caused him to stop watching conservative networks because they referred to it as a “riot.” Recent polling indicated that a plurality of Republicans in Oregon believe Jan. 6 is best described as a “riot out of control,” while a majority of Democrats consider it an “attempted coup or insurrection.”

Christensen didn’t report raising any money for his campaign, according to state campaign finance records.


Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Les Zaitz for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Republicans running for Oregon governor defended the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. One was even there

A panel of Oregon Republican candidates for governor, including one currently facing federal criminal charges for assaulting police officers at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, uniformly insisted recently that the events of that January day were a righteous protest.

Reed Christensen, Brandon Merritt, Tim McCloud, Kerry McQuisten, Amber Richardson, Bill Sizemore and Marc Thielman made their comments at a private Republican forum in Baker City in late March.

Their remarks came to light Tuesday, when a conservative organization founded by an aide on Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign complained that video of the conversation had been removed from YouTube for violating the video platform’s policies on misinformation.

The group, Look Ahead America, has been leading rallies throughout the country against what it refers to as “political persecution” of people who participated in a violent riot aimed at preventing Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election. Five people died, nearly 140 police officers and countless rioters were injured and more than 700 people are facing federal criminal charges.

Christensen, a former Intel employee from Hillsboro, is among those facing charges. He is scheduled to appear via video in a Washington, D.C., U.S. District Court on May 10, just a week before Oregon’s primary election.

According to court documents, Christensen struck or pushed several law enforcement officers and led a group that removed bike racks blocking people from moving closer to the Capitol. Officers sprayed him with a chemical irritant to discourage him from pushing through the bike racks, but he continued to push through, according to charging documents

Christensen told Republicans in Baker City that he was trying to wave a flag on the steps of the Capitol, though photos included in court documents don’t show him with a flag. He compared himself to early Americans who participated in the Boston Tea Party.

“We wanted to wave the flag on the steps of the Capitol,” he said. “They had bicycle racks with guards behind them, so I got a little upset. You can steal an election, break state law, federal law, I have to stay off the grass and stay behind your line and not wave the flag? So I got a little rowdy.”

The audience applauded for Christensen after he told them he was facing charges.

Other candidates praised him. Merritt, a marketing consultant from Bend, said Christensen had a “great story” to tell before he falsely claimed that police invited rioters into the building.

“January 6 was not an insurrection,” he said. “If the left is calling that an insurrection, what in the world are we calling what’s happening in Portland? Because it certainly ain’t peaceful protests.”

McQuisten, the mayor of Baker City, said she talked with Christensen and several eastern Oregonians who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6. They were engaged in “peaceful prayer,” she claimed.

“None of the first-person accounts I’ve heard line up with the media,” McQuisten said.

News organizations including the New York Times have obtained thousands of videos recorded by both rioters and police to reconstruct the events of the hours-long siege on the Capitol. Videos show frantic scrambles between police and protesters outside and inside the Capitol as crowds swarmed the building.

Sizemore, an anti-tax activist who was instrumental in passing several ballot measures and now owns a painting business in Redmond, referred to the Jan. 6 insurrection as an “understatement.”

He accused Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg of swaying election results, a theory that stems from grant money that election offices throughout the country received from a nonprofit organization supported by Zuckerberg. Local election officials used money to buy equipment, including personal protective equipment for election workers to reduce Covid infection risks, to pay staff and to adapt to changing laws, including in several states that greatly expanded mail voting because of the pandemic.

Sizemore said he was initially hesitant to believe false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, but that he’s become convinced people will do whatever it takes to win.

“We’re going to need more protests like January 6,” Sizemore said.

In an email to the Capital Chronicle, Sizemore allowed that a “few bad actors” engaged in wrongdoing, but said Democrats and journalists were trying to make the incident seem worse than it was.

McCloud, a Salem business development analyst, said the Capitol and all government buildings belong to the American people and they have the right to enter it at any time.

Thielman, the former superintendent of the Alsea School District, said the attempted insurrection was a response to the government failure.

“When our courts wouldn’t hear it, when our Congress wouldn’t hear it, when our executive branch wouldn’t hear it, we the people did what our Constitution allows us to do,” he said. “It was a wonderful patriotic protest.”

He told the Capital Chronicle that the incident became a “mess,” and that he didn’t condone behavior like storming the Capitol or sitting in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk, both of which rioters did.

Richardson, a licensed massage therapist from White City, said she’s been part of a group “canvassing” elections in Jackson County, going door to door to talk to voters about fraud.

“January 6 was not an insurrection,” she said. “November 3 was, and we know that.”

She told the Capital Chronicle that she stood by her comments, and that she believes the media skewed perceptions of Jan. 6.

In November 2020, Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker found the phrase “VOTE DON’T WORK. NEXT TIME BULLETS” painted in 6-foot letters in the parking lot across from her office. Walker and other county clerks still receive regular threats and angry calls and emails from people about the 2020 election, and they’re preparing to combat misinformation about the 2022 election.

Christensen, Merritt and McCloud did not immediately respond to emails Tuesday afternoon.

The Republican candidates’ response to questions about the Jan. 6 Capitol siege reflects a political divide in Oregon.

Recent polling from the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center found that about three-quarters of Democrats described the events as an attempted coup or insurrection, and most other Democrats thought it was best described as a “riot out of control.” A plurality of Republicans, 38%, said it was an out-of-control riot, but 16% described it as a reasonable protest and nearly a quarter said it was carried out by Trump’s political opponents.

The Oregon Republican Party last year passed a resolution declaring the incident a “false flag” operation. Christine Drazan, then the House GOP leader and now a candidate for governor, led all 23 House Republicans in condemning the state party for that resolution.

Another candidate, Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam, has spent months trying to walk back comments he made to Portland alt-weekly Willamette Week shortly after Jan. 6 blaming Trump for inciting violence. He now presents himself as the only candidate willing to say that the 2020 election was fraudulent.


Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Les Zaitz for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Oregon GOP chairman abruptly quits over 'wickedness' in the Republican Party

Blaming “wickedness within our organization,” Dallas Heard of Roseburg abruptly stepped down as chairman of the Oregon Republican Party.

Heard’s last day is Friday, he said in a letter sent to party members that was shared online. He wrote that unnamed members of the state party were using “communist psychological warfare tactics” to derail his leadership.

“They have broken my spirit,” Heard wrote. “I can face the Democrats with courage and conviction, but I can’t fight my own people.”

Heard, who is also a state senator, didn’t respond Wednesday to a voicemail left at the landscaping business he lists as his campaign number or an email sent to his legislative account.

His resignation from the party position comes as Republicans strive to improve their numbers in the Legislature and try to capture another Congressional seat.

Messages to Vice Chairman Herman Baertschiger and the state party office in Salem weren’t returned Wednesday. The Oregon Republican Party central committee is scheduled to meet in Salem March 25 and 26.

Heard told his hometown newspaper, the Roseburg News-Review, that he blamed Solomon Yue, who has been Oregon’s Republican National committeeman for the past 22 years. His complaints echoed a letter then-Oregon GOP Chairman Bob Tiernan, who is now running for governor, sent to the Republican National Committee in 2010.

At the time, Tiernan accused Yue of “spreading hate and discontent within Republican politics for some time – both in Oregon and inside the RNC.” He said Yue frequently referred to lessons he learned from the Chinese Communist Party about using lies and smear tactics to distort reality and achieve political aims.

Tiernan didn’t respond to a voicemail Wednesday. A publicly available phone number and email address for Yue had both been disconnected.

In his letter to party leaders, Heard wrote that Republicans must focus on winning elections and beating the “godless left,” but that they can’t ignore the “wickedness” in their own organization.

“I hope you find a way to purge this darkness from the ORP and I will be praying for your success and protection,” he wrote. He didn’t elaborate.

Carla “KC” Hanson, chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon, called Heard’s decision to step down just two months before the May primary “stunning.” She takes it as a sign that the Republican Party isn’t on track in Oregon.

“It’s just indicative of how far away so many of the Republican leaders are from their Republican base,” she said. “There’s a ton of good, hard-working Republican voters out there, and they’ve been fed this line by their party forever of how evil the Democrats are, and how Republicans are going to save the day for them, and that just ain’t the case.”

Oregon’s House and Senate Republican caucuses run their own political action committees and recruit and fundraise for Republican legislative candidates separately from the state party. House Republicans last year unanimously condemned a statement from the state party that called the violent protest at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, a “false flag.”

Heard was not chairman at the time. He spent Jan. 6 leading a related protest outside the Oregon Capitol.

He skipped every vote in the Senate this year, though he still participated in virtual committee meetings. Over the past two years, Heard staged four separate protests over the Senate’s mask policy: dramatically ripping his mask from his face in 2020, walking onto the floor without one in 2021 until Senate President Peter Courtney asked him to leave, doing the same in early February while gesturing to an enlarged photo of a maskless Courtney he propped on an easel behind his desk and removing his mask again in late February.

The last time, senators voted along party lines to remove Heard from the chamber and bar him from returning to the Capitol until he dons a mask or the rules change. He did not return, and the Capitol mask rules will expire along with the statewide mask mandate for most indoor public places next week.


Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Les Zaitz for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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Longtime New York Times columnist Nick Kristof launches Democratic campaign for Oregon governor

Longtime New York Times columnist Nick Kristof officially launched his campaign for Oregon governor on Wednesday, joining a crowded Democratic primary.

Kristof, who grew up in Yamhill and returned to his family's farm a few years ago, has been publicly considering a run for governor for several months. He resigned from the New York Times earlier this month ahead of launching his campaign.

In an announcement video, Kristof described the Oregon of today as different and less promising than the state that welcomed his father, a World War II refugee who learned English working in a logging camp and went on to become a professor at Portland State University.

More than a quarter of his Yamhill County high school classmates are now dead because of drugs, alcohol, suicide or accidents, he said.

During the nearly four decades Kristof worked at the Times, he specialized in reporting on global humanitarian crises, winning top journalism prizes for his coverage of genocide in Darfur and the pro-democracy movement in China.

“I've never run for political office in my life, but I have spent a lifetime shining a light in the darkest corners of the globe, and it broke my heart when I returned from crises abroad only to find crises here at home," he said.

Kristof created a political action committee to fundraise for his campaign a little over two weeks ago and has yet to report any contributions. Under state law, candidates have to report spending or receiving money within 30 days.

His Democratic opponents have a leg up when it comes to fundraising and name recognition. So far, House Speaker Tina Kotek and Treasurer Tobias Read lead the pack,

Read has just under $275,000 in the bank, while Kotek has just under $285,000, according to campaign finance records at the state Elections Division. The Democratic primary also includes local elected officials and activists, including Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla and Patrick Starnes, the 2018 Independent Party of Oregon nominee for governor.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary will likely face a three-way race with the Republican nominee and state Sen. Betsy Johnson, a longtime moderate Democratic lawmaker who filed to run as an independent earlier this month.

Johnson has more cash than any other candidate in the race, with just over $515,000 available to spend. She doesn't have to worry about a primary and can spend the next year focused on the November 2022 general election.

On the Republican side, Salem oncologist Bud Pierce, West Linn political consultant Bridget Barton and Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam lead a pack of more than a dozen in fundraising. Pierce was the 2016 Republican nominee for governor in a special election, losing to current Gov. Kate Brown.


Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Les Zaitz for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

BUSTED: Oregon Republican will resign two months after moving to Nevada

State Rep. Bill Post, who thought he could continue in the Oregon Legislature despite moving to Nevada, found out otherwise and said in a statement Tuesday that he will resign his seat by Nov. 30.
The Keizer Republican and former broadcaster revised his plans and will resign more than two months after he announced in late September that he sold his Keizer house and moved to Nevada.

Post, who has served in the Legislature since 2013, initially planned to serve in the Legislature at least through the end of 2021 by continuing to visit his district once a month. In both a Facebook post and an interview with his hometown newspaper, Keizertimes, he said he was still deciding whether to finish his term, which ends in January 2023.

On Tuesday, Post said in a statement that he misunderstood residency requirements for legislators.

“My intent was to be open with my constituents about my move out of state and the steps I'd be taking to continue to fulfill my duties for the rest of my term to the best of my knowledge and ability," he said in his statement. “After further discussions with an elections attorney and talking it over with my wife, it appears that the best action I can take for my district and my family is to resign before my term is over and give my successor a chance to serve during the 2022 short legislative session."

Post did not respond to an email or voicemail left with his legislative office. A House GOP spokesman said he planned to speak only to his local newspaper.

Under state law, the Oregon Republican Party must nominate between three and five candidates who live in the district. The Marion and Yamhill county commissions will then meet jointly to choose the next representative from that list.

New legislative maps approved last month combine Keizer and large swaths of Salem in a single state House district where both Post and Democratic state Rep. Brian Clem of Salem reside. Clem does not intend to run for re-election.

Post will be the sixth Oregon legislator to leave office this year, though not the last.

State Sen. Kayse Jama, D-Portland, filled a Senate vacancy left when Shemia Fagan ascended to secretary of state and Sen. Bill Kennemer, R-Canby, replaced Alan Olsen after Olsen's resignation. Rep. Andrea Valderrama, D-Portland, replaced former Rep. Diego Hernandez after he resigned over sexual harassment allegations, Rep. Anna Scharf, R-Amity, replaced her former boss, Mike Nearmann, after his expulsion over allowing armed right-wing protesters into the locked Capitol and Rep. Christine Goodwin, R-Roseburg, replaced former Rep. Gary Leif after his July death.

State Sen. Chuck Riley, D-Hillsboro, plans to resign at the end of the year, and current Rep. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro, announced in October that she'll seek the Senate appointment.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501(c)(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Les Zaitz for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.