City Councilor calls Senator Walkout GoFundMe illegal

Senator seats sit empty Friday morning in Salem while Senators were on recess until noon. (CBS Newspath)

Thursday, Oregon's GOP senators left the state senate in a protest of HB2020, known as the "Cap-and-Trade" bill.

Soon after the senators walked out, a person in Silverton created a GoFundMe to help the senators as they left Salem, according to the fundraising campaign website.

"Money will be withdrawn at regular intervals and dispersed to the senators for expenses," the GoFundMe called "Encourage the Walking Senators" says. "That may be traveling expenses or paying fines imposed by Kate Brown."

Once the fundraising campaign was created Thursday, Medford City Councilor Kevin Stine denounced it, saying it was illegal for the money from the GoFundMe to go to state senators.

"If they're just giving them money for personal use that's illegal because you can't just receive money for personal use. If they're receiving money on their campaign from that GoFundMe, that's illegal because you cannot receive money anonymously and some of the donations to that campaign are anonymous," said Stine.

In an interview, Stine specifically referenced ORS 244, News 10 looked into when legislators can and cannot receive compensation. ORS 244.040 addresses when people in official positions cannot receive money and where there are exceptions to the law.

"Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, a public official may not use or attempt to use official position or office to obtain financial gain or avoidance of financial detriment for the public official, ... if the financial gain or avoidance of financial detriment would not otherwise be available but for the public official’s holding of the official position or office," the statute says.

Within that subsection named above, subsection 2(c) allows for senators to receive funds for "reimbursement of expenses." For the full list of exceptions under ORS 244.040 Subsection (2), click here. However, Stine warns that donations should be given to the Senators' campaigns directly, not a third-party GoFundMe which allows for anonymity of donations.

GoFundMe's anonymity may not show who is donating money at the donor's choosing, so Stine says there is no correct documentation.

"When you're donating more than $100, data has to be collected on the person's name, address, their occupation and who they work for, and GoFundMe is not collecting that information to give to the person to publicly put out there," said Stine.

As of 11:15 Friday morning, the GoFundMe had reached more than $27,000 with an updated goal of $49,500. At Friday morning at 9:30, the GoFundMe goal had been $20,000 and had raised just under $21,000.

Stine mentioned Oregon campaign finance laws in tweets Friday morning, so News 10 looked into those too. According to the official 2018 Campaign Finance Manual:

"A committee may use a web-based company to receive contributions. Each contribution must be deposited in the committee’s account within seven business days of its collection. The committee reports the entire amount contributed even if the company retains a percentage of the contribution for processing fees. Any amount retained for processing fees is a reportable expenditure. The sum total of the processing fees retained on a single day may be entered and filed as one expenditure."

According to the GoFundMe page, the person who started it - named Carol Williams according to the page - promises the funds raised will be returned to each donor if an agreement on HB2020 is made between Senate Democrats and Republicans.

After Republicans walked out Thursday, Governor Kate Brown authorized the Oregon State Police to find the Senators and bring them back to the legislature.

HB2020 aims to dramatically lowering the state's greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

News 10 reached out to the creator of the GoFundMe page, Carol Williams of Silverton, but she declined to comment. News 10 also reached out to Republican Senator Herman E. Baertschiger Jr. for District Two - Grants Pass and left a voicemail.

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Update (07/15/2019): In the wake of what came to be known as the "Oregon 11" walkout from the state senate, Republican Senators are facing fines for the days they were away from the capitol. State Senator for District 2 Herman Baertschiger says while he does not expect to have to pay, he and his constituents are also not able to accept the funds donated to the GoFundMe campaign during the walkout.

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