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Oregon Dismisses Complaint Alleging Campaign Misled Business Owners

<p>A screenshot of Hari Lal, owner of Spice Kitchen, on the Keep Portland Affordable PAC website.</p>

A screenshot of Hari Lal, owner of Spice Kitchen, on the Keep Portland Affordable PAC website.

The Oregon secretary of state's office has thrown out a complaint filed against opponents of the Portland gross receipts tax measure.

The complaint alleged the Keep Portland Affordable PAC misled at least two local business owners into signing campaign material opposing Measure 26-201, the Portland initiative that would impose a 1 percent surcharge on the gross revenue large businesses generate in Portland.

Two business owners at the center of the complaint have since come out saying they actually support the measure, which would use the money generated from the tax to fund clean energy projects and job training around the city.

“We're thankful that the Secretary of State’s office saw through this publicity stunt and dismissed this frivolous complaint," the Keep Portland Affordable PAC said in an emailed statement.

"It’s important that Portlanders remain focused on what this measure is really about — it’s a $166 a year tax that will be paid by families across Portland. It will increase the cost of goods and services that we buy every day and it will hit those who can least afford it the hardest."

Backers of the measure, which include the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon and the Coalition of Communities of Color, wanted the Secretary of State's office to investigate. They wanted to know how two business owners, both immigrants whose second language is English, ended up on campaign material opposing Measure 26-201.

Documents included in the complaint show Eva Liu and Hari Lal, who run King’s Omelets and Spice Kitchen respectively, both signed papers with quotations later attributed to them on Keep Portland Affordable campaign material. Both owners’ photos appeared on the Keep Portland Affordable website. Liu was quoted in a paid political advertisement in The Oregonian/OregonLive. She also appears in the opposition section of Measure 26-201 on the county voter pamphlet.

Proponents of the measure say the two owners were led to believe they were being asked to support Measure 103, which would prohibit taxes on groceries.

"It's disappointing that the secretary of state's office has dismissed this claim," said Jenny Lee, advocacy director of the Coalition of Communities of Color. "There's nothing frivolous about making sure that, for the record, it is clear that they are in support of the Portland Clean Energy Initiative."

In a letter to the director of the Keep Portland Affordable PAC, the secretary of state's office did not provide rationale for why the complaint was dismissed.

"Our office has reviewed the complaint and closed the matter," the letter read.

Similar allegations have been lodged against opponents of a clean energy-related measure in Washington state. Proponents of Initiative 1631, which would charge a pollution fee on state fossil fuel emissions for greenhouse reduction programs, say business owners there have, to their surprise, appeared on campaign flyers opposing the measure.

"It's right out of the corporate playbook," Lee said. "We are deeply concerned when they are targeting small business owners of color and not making sure that they understand what they're formally signing onto."

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Ericka Cruz Guevarra