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Friday, May 8, 2020

Tootie’s Personal Slush Fund Draws Official Complaint

When the guy at the top sets an example of, “Hey, I got elected to make some money,” and that same person, Donald Trump, is compelled to return $1.5 million to charity after illegally steering it into his own pocket, we shouldn’t be surprised at his influence on other Republican officeholders.  
Specifically, former Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith has broken Oregon law when it comes to using Political Action Committee (PAC) funds for personal use. She’s been using that money as a personal slush fund since leaving office in January, 2017, when she was beaten by Ken Humberston.
Such naughty shenanigans have been spotted by an alert Happy Valley person, Sherry Healy, who in February filed a formal complaint with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Elections Division. With documentation there are 48 pages of material.
Tootie Smith and John Ludlow celebrate their election victories in 2012.   Both lost re-election in 2016 and Smith is seeking office again, despite official complaints of running a “slush fund” with PAC money.
It went like this: Once a person is out of office it may be time to change their public persona. Tootie figured she would be a good motivational speaker. She wanted to get paid for talking to people.
In order to succeed she needed training and that costs money. So she turned to her PAC account. Oops. That’s against the law. PAC money is only for political use. The complaint cites several examples of how Tootie broke the law using PAC money:  
  • Paying a membership fee of $1,697 in January, 2017, to the National Speakers Association with campaign funds after leaving office.  
  • Paying $1,125 with PAC money for speaking, consulting and training after leaving office, with the stated goal of starting a new career, one apparently funded by campaign money. 
  • Paying $120 for website expenses with campaign funds after leaving office to advertise her professional speaking and consulting services.  
  • Using campaign funds to build a website linking to sales of her book. 
  • Using the PAC in 2019 for a $170 membership in the West Linn Chamber of Commerce to promote herself as an author, not as a candidate.
A key aspect of the law, ORS 260.407, specifically prohibits using PAC funds for any personal use other than to defray any expenses incurred in connection with the person’s duties as a holder of public office. Smith was neither in office nor a candidate when the most egregious activities occurred.
Today Smith wants to get back in office. She is challenging County Chair Jim Bernard in the May election. So last year she reinvigorated her PAC, which implies her candidacy will benefit from any proceeds.

What does the Secretary of State’s office have to say?  While acknowledging they have received the formal complaint, the Elections Division will only say, “It’s under investigation.” And, in a new policy under Republican Secretary Bev Clarno, “We don’t comment on complaints until the investigation is over.”
After four years in the Oregon legislature (2001-2005) and another four (2013–2017) as county commissioner, one could figure she would know the law and uphold it.  But that is not the case. Tootie Smith is certainly setting a bad example.
Bad judgment does not make a good public official.  And a look back on her service as a county commissioner also reflects bad decisions and misguided actions.  She should not be allowed back into public office.