Misleading Burdick Ad Violates Disclaimer Guidelines

Charlie Burr

There’s really only one problem with Senator Ginny Burdick’s slick new Gard and Gerber style advertising campaign.


In the ads, Burdick predictably blasts Sten for Voter-Owned Elections, a program designed to limit the influence and power of special interests like the ones bankrolling the Senator’s campaign.

Not content to merely flipflop on the question of public financing, Burdick ends the spot with the too-clever-by-half – and more importantly, false and inaccurate – disclosure line, “This ad is paid for by the Friends of Ginny Burdick, not by your tax dollars.”

This is simply not true or at best is seriously deceptive and misleading as the campaign organized and run by "Friends of Ginny Burdick" is, in fact, using tax dollars to pay for campaign expenditures such as the subject radio ad.

This fact was reported publicly in the February 8, 2006 edition of Willamette Week:

City Council candidate Ginny Burdick's opposition to publicly financed elections couldn't be clearer on her campaign website: "One thing distinguishing my campaign from that of my incumbent opponent is that I will not be taking taxpayer dollars." Yet Burdick's mailings for her run against Commissioner Erik Sten include a plea for—that's right—public financing of her campaign. "Political contributions up to $50 per person and $100 per couple may be refunded as a tax credit on your Oregon tax return," reads a reminder on Burdick's return envelope. The political-contribution tax credit, enacted in 1969, costs the state more than $5 million annually—about five times the expected cost of the city elections plan hatched by Sten.

Interestingly, when given the opportunity to deny Willamette Week's report, the "Friends of Ginny Burdick" campaign manager simply stated that the "city program provides many more dollars per candidate."

It’s a free country, and Senator Burdick is entitled to change her mind as many times as she wants on public financing. She can look to Gard and Gerber – the firm behind the failed First Things First effort – for strategic advice to her heart’s content.

But the Senator’s campaign – no matter how powerful its financial backers – still has to play by the same rules as the rest of us. Including false and inaccurate information in a radio ad’s disclosure line is a clear violation, and the Senator’s misleading ad should be removed or altered immediately.

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    You seem to be saying that dollars the government does not take from us by virtue of allowing a tax credit are still tax dollars, right?

    In other words, if the tax policy allows me to keep $100 rather than send it to the government if I spend it on politics - that $100 is "government spending."

    So, the money the government allows us to keep rather than tax from us is public money.

    Which of course means all of our money is public money.

    That of course has been the core of the left's economic beliefs all along, but it is nice to see it finally acknowledged!

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    I don't get how that means "all of our money is public money." The only money that's public money is the money you are taxed for. If you make X, then X.09 is your tax liability. THAT (X.09) is public money at tax time, not X. The state then credits you part of X.09, despite being legally entitled to it, because you gave money to Ginny Burdick. And THAT is why her campaign costs taxpayer dollars. X.09 is taxpayer money, and she is siphoning some of it away.

    (yes, I know 9% is not the rate from the first dollar)

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    The tax credit is not a direct taxpayer subsidy to Burdick in the way that VOE is a direct taxpayer subsidy to Sten. If you've already blown your credit on some other candidate, then your $50 donation to Burdick is going to cost you $50 of your own money. Thus, the Burdick campaign is not necessarily using a single "tax" dollar. This is a pretty obvious distinction. Calling Burdick "seriously deceptive and misleading" is a bit much.

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    It may not necessarily use a single tax dollar, but unless Burdick has verified that none of her contributors have or will meet their credit maximum, it's not true to say there were definitely NO tax dollars used.

  • Richard (unverified)

    """"THAT (X.09) is public money at tax time, not X. The state then credits you part of X.09, despite being legally entitled to it,""""

    What kind of convoluted nonsense is that? The .09 is "public money at tax time".

    What time is that? While the form is being filled out it's public money?

    I guess the tax on the money I deduct for my home mortgage deduction is public money too just prior to my entering the deduction on the form?????

    How about any other tax credit or deduction?

    Seems Kremer made a good point that fits Torrid's hand like a glove.

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    The Oregon Political Tax Credit costs the state $5 million annually, as mentioned above in the Willamette Week article. In fact, Ballot Measure 6 (2000) which would have created statewide public financing was paid for in large part by elimination of this tax credit.

    Rob, I appreciate the philosophical point you're trying to make, but even the Senator's own campaign is arguing that the Oregon Political Tax credit costs money, just not as much per capita as Voter-Owned Election (see article above).

    In fact, this morning's Willamette Week quotes Burdick manager Ed Grosswiler as saying that the ad clearly refers to "city tax dollars."


    Again, here's the misleading and false disclaimer line: "Paid for Friends of Ginny Burdick, not by your tax dollars."

    Nothing about "city" dollars there.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Come on, Rob,

    The political contribution tax credit is subtracted directly from ones tax liability. Claiming this is public money is, in no way, suggesting that "all of our money is public money."

    Was your mother scared by a government worker during your gestation?

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    My respect for Burdick continues to erode. Given a choice between her and a Republican, I'd vote Green.

  • Oscar (unverified)

    Charlie, you shouldn't be surprised that the Burdick campaign chose to lie their way out of tough situation. My question is how did the the beery editors at WW let that prima facie lie go unchallenged? Too much beer at Candidates Gone Wild?

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    Richard sez: "What time is that? While the form is being filled out it's public money?

    I guess the tax on the money I deduct for my home mortgage deduction is public money too just prior to my entering the deduction on the form?????

    How about any other tax credit or deduction?"

    Yes, correct. It's really taxed as it's earned; it's only collected in May. As soon as you receive the income, you're liable for the tax on it. You just have until May to pay, and you can reduce your liability in the meantime. I'm glad you understand.

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    Willamette Week is the only msm outlet that's actually on top of the Burdick hypocrisy story -- the Oregonian is giving a lot of prominent real estate in their paper to bashing VOE and misplaced Sten lawnsign stories, but hasn't really been covering this.

    Plus, WW and the Bus Project (and everyone else involved) with Candidates Gone Wild pulled off a kick ass event Monday, so if there was any beery fog yesterday it was well earned.

  • ses (unverified)

    As I am a died in the wool fan of Erik Sten, it will come as no surprise how I feel regarding the negative campaign ads I have been hearing on the radio. Nothing turns me and I am sure a lot of Portland's voters off these days quite like them. Erik has done a good job for Portland and needs to be applauded for it. Ms. Burdick's attacks sound just like what they are, someone going down the drain so they are grasping at straws to stay afloat.

  • PanchoPdx (unverified)

    This argument mirrors the one on whether Urban Renewal Districts really take money from schools.

    I won't contest the position that accepting tax credited donations is equivalent to accepting public tax revenues IF Charlie (and Torid) are willing to admit that UR districts take tax revenues away from public schools.

  • Jesse O (unverified)

    Anyone have the full text of the ad?

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    Here you go Jesse O:

    Every time you hear an ad or read a political ad for Erik Sten for City Council, remember that your tax dollars paid for it under a new program sponsored by Sten himself and approved without a vote of the people. Every time you hear an ad for Erik Sten, remember that the other incumbents on the City Council have all refused to take taxpayer money in their own elections. Every time you hear an ad for Erik Sten, remember that the so-called clean money scheme sponsored by Sten is now called a 'circus' by the Oregonian and a 'scandal' by The Tribune Every time you hear an ad for Erik Sten, remember that the money it costs could be paying for good schools, more police or helping the homeless. The next time you hear and add for Erik Sten, if you find yourselves disappointed and disillusioned, remember we have a choice. This message is paid for by the Friends of Ginny Burdick, not by your tax dollars.
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    Of course every time you hear a Ginny Burdick radio ad, know that it’s being paid for by Comcast, Portland Business Alliance, and downtown real estate interests.

    Every time you see Ginny Burdick’s campaign, know that Gard and Gerber’s fueling it, the public relations firm behind PGE, OHSU, and a steady menu of anti-consumer campaigns.

    Every time you hear Ginny Burdick tout her private sector experience, know that what she’s really talking about is being Vice-President of Gard and Gerber, so despite the Senator’s objections, G+G is on the ballot -- because of her campaign’s own rhetoric.

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    I heard those radio ads. I'm not a fan of either candidate, but those ads sure turned me off. Felt like a campaign for national office where things go nasty from the start. We're not a big enough city for nasty elections.

    It would be nice in a local election if ads talked about what a candidate would do for Portland rather than smack down the other candidate. I guess that's what you get when someone running for local office follows the old tried-and-true election recipe. Poll, speak in platitudes, avoid actual issues, attack.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)


    I don't know how long you've been around here, but the only time I've seen Democrats get as nasty as Republicans is when Democrats run against other Democrats in Multnomah County and Portland.

  • Betsy Wilson (unverified)

    Legally, Ginny's right, and you're wrong. Taxes not collected (political tax credit) are not taxes paid out (like VOE is).

    Her campaign donors may pay lower taxes, but that doesn't mean the public treasury is paying for her campaign. It just has less money collected.

    Of course, mathematically, they're equal.

    Whether or not that matters is your call.

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    If I'm wrong, then so is Ed Grosswiler, Burdick's manager -- who's already admitted that they're using tax dollars for their campaign. In Feb. their argument was that the amount wasn't as much as Sten's; today's argument is that they specified "city" tax dollars in the ad, which of course they didn't.

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    A brief retraction--

    Above I wrote that the Oregonian was giving a lot of space to bashing VOE. I stand by that, but apologize if I conflated the editorial section responsible for the bashing and the news department, which as I've written before is generally doing a decent job.

  • Betsy Wilson (unverified)

    Grossweiler's wrong about lots of things, yes.

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    I support Erik Sten in this race, but, for the reasons expressed by Betsy, I think that it is a stretch to say that Ginny Burdick's ad is "not true or at best seriously misleading or deceptive." I would also agree that Burdick's campaign manager should not have conceeded the point.

    That being said, Charlie, I can only hope you lead the way in more Emilie Boyles campaign correspondence parody.


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    Candidates for Oregon public office are not legally required to have any disclaimer or disclosure in their ads at all. The ads do not have to be identified by source or by source of funding or in any other way.

    Why? The Oregon Legislature, over my objection, in 2001 repealed ORS 260.522, the statute requiring that political ads state the identity of the person or entity paying for them.

    This does not refute C. Burr's argument that her statement (re not being funded by tax dollars) is false and thus violates ORS 260.532. I tend to agree that, while the ad is misleading, it is not technically false.

    Let us assume, however, that a candidate runs an ad that is demonstrably and blatantly false. Oregon's ban on false statements in political ads is essentially unenforceable. The Oregon Supreme Court has held that, if an opposing candidate brings a lawsuit to enforce it, the suit and all appeals must be completed prior to the date of the election. As of the following day, the case is moot and must be dismissed. Further, the Oregon courts will not issue injunctions to stop the distribution of the false statement.

    Also, since the candidate seeking to enforce the law will almost certainly lose the case (having it declared moot is losing), that candidate is subject to paying the offending candidate's attorney fees and costs in the litigation.

    Thus, in Oregon, false statements in campaign ads are very highly <u>protected</u>.

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    My point exactly Jack -- thus the challenge.

    If I was a Dave Lister supporter, I wouldn't want these ads pulled either. The more heated it gets between Ginny and Erik, the better for him. I will admit that you guys did pretty well the other at CGW though.

    But to Dan's point, I understand these challenges are difficult. Ginny's mail pieces are seriously misleading too -- for example, she's implying an OLCV endorsement where none exists -- but there's really nothing that can be done about that. Dan's frequently taken on Gard & Gerber, so I can appreciate his working knowledge of false statements made during a political campaign.

    There are no guarantees with this challenge will work, but even if it does, the most important "truth squad" will be on the doorstep between now and May 16th. I do believe -- as I've written above -- that Burdick's own manager is confirming our central complaint. Regardless, I invite everyone who's as sick of Ginny's negative, misleading campaign as I am to join me for the final grassroots push.

  • Wesley Charles (unverified)


    Candidates for Oregon public office are not legally required to have any disclaimer or disclosure in their ads at all. The ads do not have to be identified by source or by source of funding or in any other way.

    You're the lawyer here, but I think you're incorrect when it comes to broadcast ads, such as the Burdick radio ad at issue.

    I think it's an FCC thing, in which radio and TV ads are required to disclose source of funding under federal, not state, law.

    • Wes
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    Wesley is correct. The FCC does have rules requiring disclosure of sponsors of ads on FCC-licensed radio and TV stations, which do apply to non-federal candidates.

    The disclosure must “fully and fairly disclose the true identity of the person or persons, or corporation, committee, association or other unincorporated group, or other entity.”

    Oregon's repeal of its disclosure requirement primarily affected print media, so not 100% pertinent here.

  • Christian Yves Dubuche (unverified)

    I'm very surprised to learn that Oregon actually taxes political contributions. I agree with your analysis of the situation and can only guess which party is the one flipping the issue on its head. Keep 'em honest Charlie!

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    Steve --

    Thanks for the feedback from the Boyles-As-Nigerian-Finance-Minister piece. But I just don't think I can compete with what's coming out of her campaign directly. Great stuff-- pure comic gold.

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    I'd be interested in substantive reasons why I ought to vote for Sten, Burdick, or Lister.

    Sorry, Charlie, but I'm with S. Davis. I find this particular charge lame at best and scurrilous at worst.

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    Scurrilous? It is common for campaigns to challenge each other's ads, and I strongly disagree with Grosswiler's contention that the ad clearly indicates "city" spending. Will the challenge work? I don't know -- I think the challenge against the misleading Saxton ad is pretty strong but has yet to go anywhere -- so who knows?

    Putting aside Burdick's negative ads, I'm supporting Sten because of his work on affordable housing, sustainability issues and more than anything, his willingness to stand up for what's best for Portland. It may sound like political rhetoric, but I think that Erik has truly taken on some tough fights for the right reasons -- and is really the opposite of an ultra-cautious, poll-driven politician. It's not an ideological thing for me, I just appreciate seeing leadership that shows some political courage.

    If you are undecided on this race, you should call Erik's campaign office at 284-STEN and ask him directly why he should earn your vote. Yes, I know it's a campaign's job to contact YOU -- and I'm sure you'll be getting some mail soon -- but 1) I don't have your number 2) I suspect you'd likely have more detailed questions that are typically covered in a mail piece.

  • Dave J. (unverified)

    Scurrilous? It is common for campaigns to challenge each other's ads, and I strongly disagree with Grosswiler's contention that the ad clearly indicates "city" spending.

    C'mon, these ads are airing in the city of Portland, no? This race is limited to residents of Portland, no? I think it is entirely reasonable to get that, in this context, the "tax dollars" referred to in the ad are city dollars, not state dollars. Furthermore, the substance of the ad is attacking the VOE program, which is limited to Portland. She talks about a city program that is using tax dollars to fund elections, thus, her reference to tax dollars at the end of the message can clearly be understood to refer to that city program.

    With all due respect, you have to pretty much intentionally misunderstand the ad to come to your conclusion, Charlie.

  • LMAO (unverified)

    Sten is a Socialist. If you believe Socialism is the Answer, then vote Sten.

    What do I mean by socialism?

    High taxes on business and personal property and income to subsidize "affordable housing". Never mind that seniors and the working poor are getting taxed out of their own homes. Public power. Public financing of campaigns. Public subsidies of wealthy developers (oh wait, that's more like crony capitalism)... Foreign policy making at the local level...etc.

    <h2>Viva la Revolucion Sten!</h2>

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