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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Auditor's Office Looking Into Apparent Omissions in Portland Business Alliance Lobbying Report

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Thu, Oct 31, 2013 at 1:29 PM

The Portland Business Alliance—one of the city's largest and most prominent lobbying and political organizations—has drawn the eye of the city auditor's office for apparent omissions in its latest accounting of contacts and communiques with city officials.

Deborah Scroggin, who oversees the auditor's lobbying reports and Portland elections, confirmed she would look into the matter after a call from the Mercury. The Mercury called Scroggin after poring over the latest PBA report, covering July 1 through September 30, and noticing it didn't include two missives that we had previously obtained and shared through records requests.

The first was a July 16 email, sent from Vice President Lynnae Berg to Mayor Charlie Hales and two staffers, on whether and where to expand special sit-lie zones on downtown and East Hawthorne sidewalks. (It also included maps.) The second was a September 17 letter, sent from PBA President Sandra McDonough to Commissioner Amanda Fritz, urging against plans to move Right 2 Dream Too into the Pearl District.

Both qualify as obvious lobbying contacts. The PBA did list other emails related to sidewalk issues, sent in the days following the July 16 email, but they were from McDonough and not Berg.

"It's an honor system," Scroggin says about the city's requirements on disclosure, adding that enforcement of mistakes is "complaint driven."

And that's true, for the most part. Scroggin did say she checks reports against commissioners' calendars (reports are due two weeks after the end of the last quarter)—and that she'd already contacted the PBA about some omitted meetings. "I had to ask them to clarify or correct, this quarter," she says.

Scroggin posited that some bureaucratic challenges at the PBA—responsibilities for lobbying reports had shifted around to a few different people—may have contributed. Bernie Bottomly, the PBA's vice president in charge of government relations, hasn't returned a call seeking comment. The PBA's longtime spokeswoman, Megan Doern, left the PBA recently for a job in Washington, DC.

But this isn't the first strange mistake with the PBA's lobbying reports. A year ago, the group had to amend its summer-months filing, changing a handful of items listed as emails (about subjects like the arts tax and city hall sidewalk camping) to phone calls. The amendment came after the Mercury asked then-Mayor Sam Adams' office for copies of the listed emails—only to be told that neither the mayor's office nor the PBA could find the complete list.

"In researching this request we found that we didn’t have any record of the emails noted about City Hall campers or arts tax…and it’s unusual for us not to have emails," then-mayoral spokeswoman Caryn Brooks wrote me. "We contacted the PBA to see if they could share their copies of the emails. When they searched their records, they found that they noted conversations over the phone as emails by mistake."

The PBA, Scroggin notes, is one of a few organizations to file a report every quarter. "They do a lot of lobbying," she says. She told me she'll take the new information and "present it to them."

"If there's an egregious violation, and they have intent to violate," Scroggin says of disclosure violations, generally, "that would be somethng we'd look into further."

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