SALEM — Amanda La Bell, the Working Families Party candidate for the 54th House District backed by several prominent Democrats, claims incorrectly in the official state Voters Pamphlet that she earned a bachelor’s degree from Valdosta State University in Georgia.
Making false statements in part of the voter guide is a class C felony.
“Regarding my college education, I attended Gulf Coast Community College for two years then transferred to Valdosta State University in the pursuit of my Bachelors of Arts in Music,” La Bell told The Bulletin in an email. “However, after one semester at Valdosta State University, I had to withdraw and enter the workforce. Through the years I tried to re-enter college but, like many working families, I faced significant barriers to completing my degree.”
La Bell, 41, had listed the bachelor of arts on LinkedIn — a business networking social media platform — along with the dates 1997-1999. She has since removed the citation from her profile. She said including the claim in her official Voters Pamphlet statement was inadvertent.
“Due to an oversight during the rapid launch of my campaign, this error was mistakenly repeated in the voter’s guide,” La Bell said in an email. “Unfortunately, I did not catch this until it was too late to correct. I have shared this error with my supporters and take complete responsibility for the mistake.”
ORS 260.715(1), dealing with “False Statements in Material Required by Election Law,” says filing false information on the required portion of the Voters Pamphlet involving occupation and education is a class C felony. It specifically says “An example of a false statement under ORS 260.715(1) is stating the candidate has a college degree when the candidate does not.”
Deb Royal, chief of staff for Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, confirmed that a violation of the law is a felony but said the office does not normally get involved in alleged false statements unless it receives a complaint.
Royal said that if a complaint is filed, the secretary of state could levy civil penalties of up to $1,000 and that all cases are referred to the Oregon attorney general for possible criminal action.
According to Valdosta State University officials, they have no record of La Bell ever attending the school. They checked under La Bell’s full legal name, Amanda Evelyn Vaughn-La Bell, as well as Amanda Vaughn and Amanda La Bell.
“If she can provide us with a different name she may have had while attending, and a birthdate, we could check further,” said Jessica Pope, communications and media relations director for Valdosta State University.
The highest-profile state case involving false statements in an Oregon Voters Pamphlet was the 1997 conviction of former Republican U.S. Rep. Wes Cooley, for claiming in the 1994 Voters Pamphlet that he served in Korea during the Korean War. Cooley never left the continental United States during the conflict. Cooley was elected in 1994 to represent the 2nd Congressional District, which includes Deschutes County, but was indicted and did not run for re-election in 1996. He was placed on two years’ probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. He also paid $7,110 in fines and court costs. Cooley died in Bend in 2015.
La Bell emerged out of the chaos of the 54th House District race as an alternative to embattled Democratic nominee Nathan Boddie. Boddie, a Bend city councilor, ran unopposed in the May 15 primary. But soon after, he faced allegations of sexual harassment that led many Democrats and their allies to withdraw support.
As the deadline for finalizing the ballot approached, Boddie declined to step down and Democrats looked for an alternative in the House race that may be key to control of the Legislature in 2019. Democrats are one vote short of a supermajority in the House that would allow them to pass financial and tax bills without Republican help. The 54th House District was seen as a likely flip for Democrats. Though Republicans have held the seat for the past four terms, the district has a large and growing Democratic voter-registration edge.
Boddie’s refusal to withdraw appeared to increase the likelihood that Republican Cheri Helt, a Bend restaurateur and local school board member, would keep the seat in the Republican fold.
La Bell stepped forward, first offering to run as a Democrat if Boddie would withdraw from the race and then earning the Working Families Party slot on the ballot. As the deadline loomed, Democrats fell in behind La Bell’s candidacy.
She has been endorsed by Gov. Kate Brown and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley. The Progressive Party backed her candidacy. She was also endorsed by former Gov. Barbara Roberts, former 54th district Democratic candidate Gena Goodman-Campbell and Bend City Councilor Barb Campbell. Several groups backed her candidacy, including Indivisible Bend, Planned Parenthood PAC and a variety of labor union groups.
La Bell, who said she moved to Bend in 2017, is best known as the co-founder of the Rebecca Foundation, which provides disposable and cloth diapers to low-income families and free menstrual products to Bend-area middle and high schools. She’s also the business and marketing manager at Clifton Law in Bend, which specializes in cannabis-industry matters.
La Bell launched a campaign centering on affordable housing and health care, along with investing in the future of public schools.
Supporters held a fundraiser at the Broken Top Bottle Shop & Ale Cafe earlier this month and on Saturday, La Bell led a voter canvassing effort in Bend.
But questions about how much supporters knew of or about La Bell surfaced in recent weeks. Political leaders who have endorsed La Bell said they had either never met the candidate and endorsed her based on staff and local political activists’ recommendations or had only cursory discussions before giving their backing.
Gov. Brown said she had neither met nor spoken with La Bell, though she said that was not unusual given the circumstances.
“My team has spoken with her, and given what has happened with the Democratic candidate, I felt there was a need for another choice in that race,” Brown said.
Asked if Merkley had either met with or talked to La Bell, his campaign issued a statement reiterating its endorsement.
“Amanda stepped up to give Bend voters a real choice this November. Her campaign has been fueled by community-led energy because she’s fighting to fix the real issues that everyday Oregonians are facing — making health care and housing more affordable; improving our children’s education; and making sure a hard day’s work earns a fair living wage.”
Goodman-Campbell said La Bell approached her about an endorsement. The two talked and Goodman-Campbell said she believes La Bell is a strong choice for Bend voters.
La Bell had her Tennessee Real Estate License revoked in 2014, though La Bell said she had simply moved out of the area where she was doing timeshare sales and didn’t keep her license active.
La Bell said she is an unconventional candidate with an unconventional background in what has turned into an unconventional race for the state House. But she says she believes she is what voters are looking for.
“My background and the challenges I’ve faced mirror those of many working families in our community,” La Bell said in an email to The Bulletin last week. “My commitment to fighting for a Bend that works for all of us is rooted in these experiences.”
— Reporter: 541-640-2750, email@example.com