An organizer of the group that backed last year’s ballot initiative to phase out short-term rentals in most of the unincorporated county’s residential areas joined local Democrats in filing campaign finance complaints against two candidates in the race for Lincoln County Board of Commissioners.
A Monday press release from the Lincoln County Democrats announced that Monica Kirk, treasurer for 15neighborhoods, filed a complaint on behalf of that organization with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office Elections Division, alleging that Carter McEntee, candidate for Lincoln County commissioner position one, and Mark Watkins, candidate for position three, violated state campaign finance law.
The formal complaint cites “multiple failures to file campaign finance transactions” and “failure to include the ‘Paid for by’ disclosure on campaign literature.”
In her complaint, Kirk notes 15neighborhoods’ own expenses for the November 2021 election.
“I know that yard signs, printing and postage for flyers and half-page color ads in the Newport News-Times cost hundreds of dollars each,” she wrote, adding that maintaining a website and Facebook page would likely also require an in-kind or cash contribution.
While McEntee and Watkins have both had a prominent advertising presence in print and digital media since March, neither reported any contributions or expenses to the Secretary of State’s ORESTAR system as of April 12, Kirk notes. State law requires candidates to create a campaign committee and report transactions if they expect to spend or receive more than $750 during a calendar year. A waiver can be filed if a candidate expects to spend less than $3,500, which allows them to report itemized transactions after the election.
McEntee did not have a campaign committee in his name until April 13, and Watkins’ committee page showed no transactions until April 15. The due date for reporting expenditures or contributions made on or before March 13 was 30 days after the transaction, while transactions occurring March 14 to April 4 had to be reported by April 12. Any spending between April 4 and the May 17 election must be reported within seven days.
Two complaints were already filed against the two candidates, the first on April 12 by Mark Farley, the husband of Commissioner Kaety Jacobson, one of Watkins’ opponents, and the second on April 17 by Michael Gaskill, chair of the Lincoln County Democrats.
The News-Times reported on those complaints April 22, at which time McEntee’s ORESTAR committee page reported $2,500 in expenditures, $2,000 to this newspaper and $500 to a radio station, and similar in contributions, the bulk from the Salishan restaurant McEntee operates. He since reported an additional $4,000 paid to the News-Times and about $5,000 in contributions, $4,100 from the restaurant. His account summary says he has received just more than $10,000 and spent about $7,700.
At the time of our April 22 report, Watkins' ORESTAR page showed a $5,000 payment the to the News-Times, most of his total expenditures, and about $10,000 in contributions, $5,000 from a loan from the candidate himself and $1,000-plus donations from several individuals and the Chowder Bowl at Nye Beach. As of Tuesday morning, the ORESTAR page no longer showed the payment to the News-Times.
McEntee previously attributed reporting delays to his former treasurer’s error during committee registration. Watkins pointed to the complexity of the ORESTAR system and shared his communications with the elections office attempting to the correct the problem.
New in Kirk’s complaint is the failure to include text in advertisements disclosing who paid for them — which is indeed absent from all of both McEntee’s and Watkins’ campaign materials. Online and prints ads for candidates Gregory Holland, Casey Miller, Mitch Parsons, Walter Chuck and Jacobson all appear to include the disclosure. Candidate Ryan Parker paid for ads in the News Guard and a local blog, according to ORESTAR, but the News-Times could not locate one to review for the disclosure. Candidate Randy Mallette has no paid advertising.
The administrative rule clarifying disclosure requirements enacted under House Bill 2716, signed by the governor in summer 2019 and effective Dec. 3, 2020, says candidates must also include their committee ID number, an element apparently missing from every candidate’s ads.
Lawn signs, pins, pens, wearable merchandise, skywriting and items determined by the secretary of state’s office administrative rule to be “too small” are exempt from including the disclosure.
Kirk’s complaint itemizes the two candidates’ advertisements and cites their prior statements on finance reporting.
“Unfamiliarity with the regulations is no defense to failure to disclose contributions and expenditures or failure to include the ‘Paid for’ required campaign communication and should not be,” she wrote, noting that staff at the elections division are available to answer questions.
Kirk contributed $1,000 to Parker, who is running against Watkins for position three. She told the News-Times Wednesday she contributed $1,000 to Jacobson's campaign the previous day, which would not yet appear on the candidate's ORESTAR page.
McEntee said in an email Monday, “Because I don’t know every campaign advertising regulation, I hired the News-Times to do all of my digital and print advertising, even my signs. Most all of the other candidates are in the same boat not having these things either. People are grasping at straws at this point.”
Watkins also responded to the complaint via email, saying he took full responsibility and apologized for the error. He said he was unsure why his ORESTAR page no longer reflected his payment to the News-Times and he would contact the elections office today to correct the issue.
“I am also choosing to stay focused on what really matters, and that is the citizens of Lincoln County,” Watkins wrote. “I have not, nor do I intend to, report a formal complaint against the other county commissioner candidates for finance violations, and for making the same errors, because I recognize we as humans make honest mistakes, and in the end, it’s how we choose to respond. To some, this incident will be a monumental event, and exploited to its fullest. To others, it will be viewed as ‘no big deal.’ I truly recognize and understand both responses.”
News-Times Publisher Jeremy Burke said he took the blame for both candidates' omissions of the "Paid for by" disclosure and would pay any fines that might be levied by the secretary of state’s office.
“Candidates hire the News-Times because we are experts in our field and we stand by our work. I personally let down both Watkins and McEntee,” Burke said, adding that the candidates’ respective committees, and no outside entities, paid for their advertising as part of a package that includes signs, banners, prints ads, online ads, video production, Facebook posts and direct mail.
Ben Morris, secretary of state’s office communications director, said the office investigates complaints in the order they are received, and it would likely be a month until it began reviewing the most recent.