Incumbents on the Bend City Council so far have raised significantly more money than their challengers, thanks to large donations from political action committees representing small business and the real estate industry, according to campaign finance documents.
As of Tuesday, City Councilor Chris Piper led the pack, having raised $101,239.54, according to the secretary of state’s campaign finance records. Councilor Justin Livingston was second, having raised $84,710.59.
Every candidate in the Bend City Council race has received money from political action committees, or PACs, in some form.
For Anthony Broadman, an Indigenous rights attorney running to fill the seat being left vacant by Councilor Bill Moseley at the end of the year, roughly $23,000 of the total $58,072.64 he has raised is from PAC cash and in-kind contributions. The money is from PACs formed by the Central Oregon Association of Realtors, Deschutes County Democratic Central Committee, the Bend Chamber of Commerce, and Liuna Local 737, a laborers union based in Portland.
Of the $19,521.92 he has raised, Michael Hughes, a hemp lawyer running to fill Councilor Bruce Abernethy’s seat, had $16,459.75 from the Central Oregon Association of Realtors and Bend Chamber of Commerce PACs. In comparison, Rita Schenkelberg, a mental health counselor who is challenging him for Abernethy’s seat, had raised $28,767.30, with only about $2,000 coming from Strengthening Central Oregon PAC, which is a nonpartisan organization that supports candidates who support human rights issues, and the Oregon Laborers PAC.
Only three have not received money from a PAC: August Paul Johnson, who is running against Broadman for Moseley’s seat; Anon Bubba Walters, who is running for the seat that will be vacated by Abernethy; and Ron “Rondo” Boozell, who is challenging Piper.
Johnson and Walters have not reported any fundraising at all on the secretary of state’s website. Boozell said in an email he had yet to raise $500 and therefore hasn’t reported it.
But what separates Livingston and Piper from their opponents is that a large majority of their funding has come from these PACs. As of Tuesday, roughly $92,000 of Piper’s funding came from PACs representing the Central Oregon Association of Realtors, Central Oregon Small Business, the Bend Chamber of Commerce and the Central Oregon Builders Association.
Both candidates received $42,086.01 as in-kind donations from the Realtors association for marketing efforts. Broadman also received an in-kind donation, but for significantly less.
Livingston and Piper were awarded more money because their races are more competitive than Broadman’s, said Kim Gammond, the Realtors association’s communications and public affairs director.
Gammond said the Realtors association interviews each candidate who agrees to it and looks for candidates who understand the community’s real estate needs and strive to protect personal property rights.
While almost all of the City Council candidates are in favor of building more housing this year, Gammond said the PAC prefers candidates who support incentive-based policies for developers. This compares with some candidates who campaign on inclusionary zoning — which essentially means making it so a greater variety of housing can be built throughout Bend and requires developers to build a certain way, she said.
“What can policy do to encourage the type of building you are looking for instead of requiring it?” she said.
Piper said he had no particular strategy to focus on getting PAC money versus individual donations to support his campaign. He believes the large number of PAC donations he has received says that the donors see him as the right leader for Bend for not playing “partisan politics.”
“With the way our city is growing, we need the right leader to make sure council stays in a nonpartisan leadership position,” he said.
About $82,000 of Livingston’s total of $84,710.59 in funds are from PACs representing the Central Oregon Association of Realtors and the Bend Chamber of Commerce.
Livingston said he believes he is being supported by these groups, partly because he is a Realtor himself, and that he has a good record on supporting affordable housing.
He said the Realtors PAC is not just a monolith but represents hundreds of individual people in the industry.
“I think sometimes people infer they are buying votes,” Livingston said. “I can tell you in my case that’s not the case.”
Livingston also said he makes sure to report every in-kind donation — meaning every time a group provides a service or otherwise non-cash donation to his campaign — which makes his donation total seem high. He claims other people in the race are not being as transparent about in-kind donations.
Their opponents, however, have taken a different approach. As of Tuesday, Melanie Kebler, the victim rights attorney challenging Livingston, had a total of $36,024.04, about $7,000 of which is from PACs. About $4,000 of this comes from the Strengthening Central Oregon PAC, Liuna Local 737, Plumbers & Steamfitters PAC and the Deschutes County Democrats Central Committee.
She has since received $1,500 more from the Strengthening Central Oregon PAC, Kebler said.
The rest of her campaign dollars are made up by individual donations. Kebler said she has received donations from roughly 200 donors, averaging $100 each.
“I have been working on my campaign since February and have raised over $30,000 to stay competitive in this race. In contrast, in just the past 10 days, COAR provided Livingston with a $10,000 check and paid over $42,000 for his advertising,” Kebler said in an email. “I believe candidates that have to work to earn support by speaking with voters and gaining their trust make better Councilors than those who can receive tens of thousands of dollars at the drop of the hat from one special interest.”
Megan Perkins, the co-founder of the nonprofit Embrace Bend who is challenging Piper, is also almost entirely funded by individual donations. Of the $26,342 she has raised so far, she said only $2,000 was in-kind donations from PACs. As of Tuesday, only $1,000 from Liuna Local 737 was listed on her campaign filing.
“Piper’s campaign message is all about listening to everyone but you have to wonder who he’s really listening to with that kind of money rolling in and who he actually represents on Council,” Perkins wrote in an email.
Perkins said she feels candidates shouldn’t be able to run for office only on dollars from special interests.
“People contributing to my campaign know that I am running to represent community interests not special interests,” she said. “They know that my number one goal is to make sure our city’s growth and prosperity is shared by all.”
Editor’s note: As of Tuesday, Lou Capozzi, an investor of The Bulletin, has donated to candidates Melanie Kebler and Anthony Broadman. Michael Hollern, who is also an investor, has donated to Broadman’s campaign. Taylor Northwest LLC, the company owned by Todd Taylor, who is also an investor, donated to Councilor Chris Piper’s campaign.