Democratic Bend lawmaker faces $4,500 fine for waiting 7 months to report

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A Democratic Bend lawmaker who won his seat last year in one of the most expensive legislative races in the state said Friday he plans to pay the $4,455 fine imposed on him this week after he reported $44,550 worth of contributions approximately six months late.

Rep. Jason Kropf reported the contributions from the statewide teachers union in May, after The Oregonian/OregonLive asked why he had not reported them. By then, seven months had passed since Kropf accepted the generous donations from the Oregon Education Association in September and October 2020. He was supposed to report the contributions within seven days.

On Friday, Kropf wrote in a text message that his failure to report the donations was “the result of a simple miscommunication — there was certainly no intent to be incomplete in our reports. I absolutely believe in the value of transparency in our campaign finance system and will be paying the appropriate late fee assessed. I’m grateful now, and always, for the support of Oregon’s educators.”

Kropf did not respond when asked whether he would pay the fine with personal funds or money from his political action committee, as allowed under state law.

The Secretary of State’s election division proposed the $4,455 civil penalty, set at 10% of the campaign contributions that Kropf reported late, the maximum amount the state can impose in such circumstances. According to a Sept. 29 letter from the Secretary of State’s office to Kropf, he could have appealed that amount.

In May, Kropf said his campaign treasurer could not find any notice from the Oregon Education Association’s political action committee, OEA-PAC, of the in-kind contributions. The teachers union did report to the state that it has made 2020 donations to Kropf’s campaign: $18,550 in television and radio ads on Sept. 29, $26,000 worth of television and radio ads on Oct. 6, $400 for “ad production” on Oct. 28 and $92 for brochures on Oct. 30. The Oregonian/OregonLive discovered the discrepancy while reviewing the union’s political action committee donations to legislative candidates for a story about the union’s push during the 2021 legislative session to make class size a mandatory topic of bargaining.

Kropf still has not reported the $492 worth of in-kind contributions he received from OEA-PAC on Oct. 28 and Oct 30, according to state campaign finance data.

The total amount Kropf received from the teachers union — $45,042 plus $500 in cash that he did report — is not unusual in Oregon politics, given the state has no limit on political contributions. Oregon lawmakers briefly explored proposals to cap donations this year, but they gave up on the idea despite voters’ overwhelming support for allowing such limits via a November 2020 amendment to the state constitution.

Oregon allows donors and campaigns to wait 30 days to report all types of transactions, except in specific windows close to elections when the timeline shrinks until it eventually reaches seven days. Additionally, donors who make in-kind expenditures can wait up to 48 hours after they report the transaction to the state to notify the recipient of the transaction by email or letter, according to the Secretary of State’s campaign finance manual.

It’s also common in Oregon for big donors to support their favored candidates and ballot measure campaigns with in-kind contributions such as OEA-PAC gave Kropf. In fact, most of the Oregon Education Association political action committee’s 2020 contributions to legislative candidates were “in-kind donations,” which means the donor pays a vendor such as a polling firm or company that purchases television ad time.

Kropf’s campaign coordinated with various donors to fund his advertising efforts with in-kind expenditures, Federal Communications Commission records showed. For example, the ad time buying company Media Analysis purchased time slots from a Bend television station on behalf of Kropf’s political action committee, “Jason for Bend.” Then OEA-PAC and other campaign donors paid Kropf’s campaign bills from Media Analysis and other vendors.

— Hillary Borrud; hborrud@oregonian.com; @hborrud

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