Criminal Investigation of Rep. Donna Nelson

Donnanelson_1According to the McMinnville News-Register, the Elections Division has opened a "a possible criminal investigation" into the fundraising activities of Rep. Donna Nelson.

Here's the short version: On October 1, Rep. Nelson filed a statement that she did not intend to raise or spend more than $2000 for her campaign. While that statement can be amended at any time, it allows the candidate to avoid any campaign finance reporting.

In the last month of the campaign, Nelson reported receiving thousands of dollars from lobbyists, corporations, and special interest PACs. According to her campaign finance report, those contributions all arrived in October (except $1000 from Nike.) But according to the campaign finance reports of many of those special interest PACs, the donations were made in July, August, and September.

The News-Register does an excellent job digging into the details, itemizing particular donations.

What's Nelson's excuse? From the News-Register:

She said any problems might stem from the fact she focuses on constituent mail first. She said "nonessential" mail, including lobbyist mailings that could include campaign checks, sits in plastic tubs until she gets to it - quite possibly months later.

There's already a heckuva blogstorm happening on this. Randy Stapilus was the first to take note of the story.

Loaded Orygun takes note of her excuse:

This is the "I'm just a gentlelady who's doing my best" Nelson, who offers up the rank incompetence excuse hoping to be forgiven for being flighty rather than criminal.

Cwech Blug, who lives in the district, is appropriately outraged:

I'm embarrassed to be represented by this woman, we deserve someone competent in Salem even if it were someone who I had strong political differences with, nobody deserves a completely incompetent Representative. It doesnt matter whether this was deliberate or accidental, it proves either that she maliciously broke the law, or that she's so clueless that she didnt think to bother opening her mail.


  • Zak J. (unverified)

    Brace yourselves for the coming slap on the wrist!

  • BlueNote (unverified)

    As a very liberal / progressive Democrat, I urge the authors who post on this forum to stop using misc. reporting and disclosure violations as the basis for damning articles. I am old enough to have had 3 of my best friends indicted in Operation Greylord in Chicago in the 1980s. They were all good progressive Democrats, and 2 of 3 were eventually found innocent. But if you want to start a war talking about who is or is not the most ethical person in Oregon, you are not doing the Democratic Party any favors.

    Stop the war NOW!

  • Frederick (unverified)

    The sad fact is that this is a non-story. It's only being brought up now because it was a very close race and the Peralta camp, rightly or not, isn't ready to give up.

    Had Peralta won, this would never come to light. Had he lost by 20%, this would be embarassing petty bickering at best. But since it was close, we have to investigate, litigate, and eviscerate.

    We aren't doing anyone any good by pursuing this. Instead, we should be focusing on what POSITIVE things we can accomplish with 31 Reps, 18 Senators, and a Governor all on our side.

    If we don't actually come through with positive progressive changes, we are doomed. In 2010, Bush hatred will NOT be an election factor in Oregon. The success (or failure) of Oregon progressives will be the only referendum on the ballot.

    Starting off with childish investigations like this is not a good way to start.

  • JTT (unverified)

    I agree with the commenters above, but also have to add that not opening/retrieving the mail when reporting periods get real close is pretty common in the campaign world. Not opening the mail for 4-8 weeks isn't common. However, Rep. Nelson is correct that it is not uncommon for a lobbyist to cut a check on a certain date and not deliver that check to the candidate for a few weeks (sometimes 1-2 months). I've seen that happen a few times. That typically happens because a PAC-board will meet and approve an expenditure, the treasurer will cut the check and the lobbyist will deliver it in person. While I wouldn't say there isn't anything here, I'd have to say there has to be more there than first blush.

  • (Show?)

    Frederick is transparently a right-wing troll, so I'll ignore his faux-progressive silliness.

    BlueNote, I'm wondering what you'd suggest. Should we not discuss - here at BlueOregon - an investigation opened by the Elections Division? Please note that BlueOregon doesn't have anything to do with the investigation, we're just taking note of a news story and asking people to discuss it....

    You also describe this item as a "damning article". Would you care to quote any original sentence here (i.e. not a quote of someone else) that you feel is "damning"?

    Every single sentence is a simple fact. The only word that even hints at an opinion is the word "appropriately" in the reference to Cwech Blug.

    But here's a critical point: BlueOregon is not a neutral observer. WE ARE BIASED. That's the whole point of a progressive activist blog. I would suggest going back and re-reading Jeff Alworth's post on ethical blogging.

    Finally, there's this phrase -- if you want to start a war talking about who is or is not the most ethical person in Oregon, you are not doing the Democratic Party any favors.

    First, we're not in the business of doing the Democratic Party any favors. This is not an official party publication. Second, ethics matter. If there are Democrats who misbehave, we'll talk about that too. Personally, I think that encouraging Democrats to behave ethically DOES do the party a favor.

  • wkwkwa (unverified)

    I'm outraged that, according to the News-Register article, both an activist and the paper held the story until after the election. How did they conclude that a candidate lying and committing a potentially criminal act wasn't information voters should have had? Kari is right - ethics matter. Voters should have been told, shame on those who kept this information from them.

  • (Show?)

    They didn't keep it from anyone--they had to wait until final reports came out in order to document the discrepancies. The publish date was only a few days ago. That's why they were waiting. Their prudence is actually a good thing; they did not want to impact an election by bringing up charges they could not prove at the time. Now they feel they have the goods for an investigation (and the News Reg article tells me they're absolutely right).

  • Noblesse oblige (unverified)

    There's a reason these reporting rules are there - and it sounds like this is exactly the circumstance you'd want to investigate: Nelson claimed she wasn't going to spend more than the minimum on the campaign and therefore avoided reporting - then actually did raise (and spend) a bunch of money. Democrats (and just plain citizens who haven't drunk the current-era Republican cool aid that laws and rules don't matter) SHOULD aggressively pursue this kind of thing. And, sorry, but if an "activist" and newspaper had official (even if not final) information on this before the election and didn't report it - shame on them. C&Es are now online and report filing dates have been added just so that reporting CAN be done before the final numbers come in.

  • Noblesse oblige (unverified)

    oh, and by the way, I'd argue that this news means the Dems in the House should rightfully be at 33 now - since Sumner apparently at least misled his voters about his ability to serve and Nelson's campaign apparently illegally overspent to beat Sal.

  • LT (unverified)

    If someone says they are not going to raise or spend more than $2000, they shouldn't say that unless they send back lobbyist checks amounting to more than that. She didn't have staff or volunteers who could open envelopes she couldn't get to in time? She didn't have a treasurer opening envelopes?

    This stinks. If it were someone I knew personally it would still stink. It is as dishonest as Sumner not leveling with voters about his medical condition.

    If Donna Nelson and Mac Sumner were Democrats, do you really believe the Republicans would be saying "I urge the authors who post on this forum to stop using misc. reporting and disclosure violations as the basis for damning articles". Or would they be calling Democrats congentially unethical or some such nonsense?

    Democrats have been fined in the past and rightly so for such behavior. I believe in a single ethical standard--the rules should be clear, the rules should be followed, those who don't follow the rules deserve to be landed on like a ton of bricks. Period.

    I have known people who slaved away at C & E reports long after the election was over because the reports need to be filed as long as there is an open whatever it is called--until the books are closed on "Friends of Joe Schmoe" or whatever the principal campaign committee is called.

    Kari is right. Ethics matter. To say "their " people should follow the rules but "our" people don't need to has led to some whopper fines and embarrassment, so I don't see what good that attitude is.

  • (Show?)

    Note that Donna gets to keep her office, anyway. The Legislature has exempted its members from the law that otherwise requires forfeiture of office for criminal violations of election laws.

    260.355 Deprivation of nomination or office for deliberate and material election violation. If, after a plea of guilty by or verdict of guilty against a person nominated or elected to a public office in a criminal prosecution of the person for violation of an election law in regard to either the person's nomination or election, the court determines that the violation was deliberate and material, the court, in addition to any other punishment it may impose, shall deprive the person of the nomination or, if the person was elected to an office other than state Senator or state Representative, of the office. In making the determination the court, in its discretion, may hear evidence, by testimony in open court or, if authorized by the court, by deposition, at a specified time and upon notice to the parties as the court may direct. [1971 c.749 §30; 1979 c.190 §367]

  • TomCat (unverified)

    On the matters, Kari already stated my opinion, so I'll just add a hat tip to him.

    On Nelson's statement, she could validate it by publishing the bank records that show when the checks were deposited. Somehow, I doubt that will happen.

    On the legislature exempting itself, that's something the legislature can and should change.

  • Sponge (unverified)

    Years ago, the C&E rules required submitting copies of canceled checks, both written by and received by the campaign. This investigation would be much easier if that rule was still in force. The Dan Doyle situation may have come to light much sooner had that rule been in effect. The rules also require an accounting of contributions upon receipt. For any candidate to ignore mail of any kind during an election cycle, with attendant reporting periods, is an irresponsible dereliction of duty.

  • DAN GRADY (unverified)

    I'm not familiar enough to comment on Ms. Nelson, but the picture chosen for this post is unflattering as it could be.

    A cross between Cruella and Mrs Cluas??!

  • (Show?)

    In response to Frederick's comments: No one from my campaign played any role in the filing of these complaints.

    Nelson won this race fair and square, and these contributions were not a factor in the outcome, in my opinion.

    Debbie Runciman had called me prior to the election to notify me that she intended to file a complaint. I attempted to talk her out of it because I did not want to win the race based on those kinds of allegations, and we did not speak about the matter again until after she had already filed the compaint on election day.

    I trust that the SOS will get to the bottom of this matter and that Nelson will take the appropriate steps to get back in compliance with te law.

  • genop (unverified)

    Sal, what a classy response. Don't stop running - we need leaders with your attitude. A gracious near winner. Thanks

  • Noblesse oblige (unverified)

    Sorry, to differ with Sal, but if Nelson broke campaign finance laws to get elected that means that she DIDN'T win "fair and square" - in fact she cheated. It's one thing to be a nice guy and quite another to allow yourself (and your constituents / supporters) to be taken advantage of. Classy is great, but if don't win because the other side cheated, you can't do the good things we'd want to elect you to do. We need winners, not gracious near winners.

  • (Show?)

    Actually Noblesse,

    Classy is THE place to be and since Sal is lucky enough to have a stalking horse like Ms. Runciman, I'd say he's making exactly the correct move by staying out of the mud.

    The voters will remember and appreciate Sal's restraint two years out........

  • DAN GRADY (unverified)

    Classy is great, but if don't win because the other side cheated, you can't do the good things we'd want to elect you to do. We need winners, not gracious near winners.// Posted by: Noblesse oblige | Dec 21, 2006 12:28:43 PM


  • Noblesse oblige (unverified)


    I agree that having a stalking horse is good, but don't count on a Peralta-Nelson rematch in '08. It's much more likely the R's will force her out and have a stronger candidate without her "unique" characteristices, weaknesses and skeletons. Sal had his chance to beat her - fair and square and classy - and failed. Since this was a close race, it's fair to posit that - if he'd been willing to let the voters know that Nelson was a cheater - Sal would have won. I think he had an obligation to let the voters know something as important as campaign finance fraud - just as I think the D's in Congress have an obligation to expose and investigate the R's abuses in DC - for the good of the country and to support the rule of law.

    I'd need to be convinced to support Sal in '08 BECAUSE he values his own image (or overweaning sense of self-righteousness) above the rule of law AND because he wasn't willing to do what was legitimate (and fair) to win. Having something more than a 1-vote margin to propel a progressive agenda in Salem is a lot more important to working Oregonians than one man's sense of self-importance and probity.

  • frank carper (unverified)

    question: if you have good evidence that an elected official has possibly committed a crime, do you have an obligation to report it, as soon as possible and before an election?

    i think so.

    it wasn't ok for the oregonian to withhold info about bob packwood - and it wasn't ok for sal peralta to withhold info about donna nelson. that is, if he had the details we have now.

    hiding material information from voters is not ok, and it's not playing 'fair'.

  • LT (unverified)

    As the granddaughter of a prosecutor, I wonder about evidence.

    We all got angry when bogus stories were told about the Clinton's ("Clinton let someone not a combat vet be buried at Arlington because the man was a big donor" lasted about a day before someone found the man's military combat record, for instance).

    Do you know for sure that pushing stories without the evidence nailed down will result in more votes? Or, absent concrete evidence, might it seem like just another campaign attack which some people just tune out?

    "Vote for Sal because Donna doesn't open her mail in a timely fashion" doesn't sound to me like the sort of appeal which would win over swing voters.

    I think Sponge has it right.

  • (Show?)

    Noblesse and Frank - It may be true that it's "the right thing to do" to file a complaint based on a second-hand report, and without having all of the corroborating evidence, and to do so for personal political gain. There are those in Oregon politics who would probably agree with you.

    I'm not one of them.

    Debbie Runciman was right to hold off filing a complaint until she had the evidence she believed she needed, and she was right to file when no one could accuse her of doing so for partisan political gain.

    As for the rest... I find it ironic that an anonymous commenter who likely doesn't know more than what he or she has read in the local press feels somehow qualified to pass judgement on my actions is also criticizing me for my "sense of self-importance".

    Do you even live in my district?

    The bottom line for me is this: I put my family and career on hold for six months, and my life under intense scrutiny with zero institutional support (until the last 2 weeks of the campaign) to run for a seat that no one gave me a chance to be competitive in. We didn't win, but any assertion that we didn't do everything we could do to win is as baseless as it is boorish.

    Having put myself and my family through this process, I have little patience for being second-guessed by someone who posts their criticisms anonymously.

    If you want to criticize me, fine. At least have the courage to do it in your own name.

  • (Show?)

    Another one to look at with this is the Oregon Republican Party and its donations to the Ron Saxton campaign.

    In their 1st Pre on October 2nd, they showed just under $30K in expenses, the majority of that being things like payroll. They show a few thousand in accounts payable.

    Now during this time, the ORP had been sending out mailers for Saxton. I received some at our home. Are these anywhere to be found on the 1st Pre (Oct 2nd)? Nope.

    On page 159 of the Saxton report, it shows $179,880 from the Oregon Republican Party for direct mail on September 21st.

    But it's not until the 2nd Pre on October 25th that the ORP finally starts showing its true expenditures. They jump from $20-30K in expenditures to the hundreds of thousands.

    Now shouldn't something the Saxton campaign shows as being donated on the 21st of September (and which was arriving in people's mailboxes) have shown up on the reports that came out before the 2nd Pre? Even if they didn't have exact amounts, they did know an approximate amount of the costs from when they contracted the printing company to do the work.

    That allowed the ORP to look like they were spending almost nothing while the Democratic Party of Oregon was spending large amounts of money.

    With the Nelson thing...

    People don't seem to get how serious this is. There is no way that money just sat around in envelopes for that long. I hope they get a hold of bank statements and such and verify when amounts were deposited. It'd also be interesting to see when contracts/agreements were made for the items she spent the money on. And was she contacted by those lobbyists and such and told in person, over the phone, etc. that the funds were coming? Those were pledges that should have been recorded.

    It almost seems that the Republicans were trying to hide their contributions/expenditures as long as possible. While with some candidates it would have been impossible (Saxton, Minnis), as it would have been noticed immediately, there seems to be a bit of a pattern of hiding the true amounts on C&E reports until the last moment.

    While some may not like it, I am looking forward to the new reporting rules. Under the new rules, many contributions and expenditures will have to be filed within days of receiving them.

    I'm very excited about being able to do full searches on transactions (such as to see how much money a contributor gave).

  • Noblesse oblige (unverified)


    There are reasons why anonymous posts are allowed on blogs. Some of those reasons are very legitimate and that's why they are allowed. You'll just have to accept (or not) that some of us have legitimate reasons for posting anonymously. Either the substance of the posts and the criticism is valid or not - doesn't really matter whether the source is anonymous.

    I'll grant you that some of my criticism is personal. Sorry, but it appears that you chose to position yourself in this campaign, and you continue to maintain in these posts, that you're "above it all" and therefore "better" than all those other folks out there in Oregon politics.

    That, sir, opens you to exactly the criticism I'm leveling: that your chosen approach to politics handicapped you in this particular instance. So, I am sorry if you don't like the personal criticism, but you chose the path of being "different" and have repeatedly sent the message that you consider that "better". You may not be the most objective judge of that, and others are entitled to a different judgment.

    I was taught years ago by a very wise elected official that one should take an important public position very seriously but must be careful not take yourself too seriously as the person who's (temporarily) filling that position. I respect your willingness to pursue elected office, but don't grant you immunity from criticism (even anonymous criticism) because you did so.

    As to your comment about " institutional suppport..." Didn't you kinda set that up yourself with your position on fundraising?

    No, I don't live in your district, but I do live in Oregon, so the damage Donna Nelson does in the Legislature affects me just as much as you - so I've got sufficient standing to comment.

    As to the Nelson fundraising issues, a few comments about why it was a) possible, and b) appropriate to expose this before the election.

    1. Nelson's filings weren't the only record or "corroborating evidence" availabe before the election. The contributor's reports were out there, online and in a campaign that was "doing everything it could to win" would have been reviewed and carefully compared to Nelson's C&E's. If that had been done, the discrepancies could have been caught ealier. There's nothing "second hand" about the OFFICIAL information that was available before the election.

    2. Campaign contributions by special interests were clearly an issue statewide this cycle, and one would think even more so in a race where one of the candidates has voluntarily limited his fundraising. It's hard to argue that campaign finance / reporting irregularities were not a legitimate issue PRE-ELECTION in this race

    3. The newspaper didn't say they held the story because there wasn't sufficient pre-election information, but rather that they held it because no official complaint had been filed. They seem to be arguing that the story was the complaint as opposed to the potential illegal acts of the candidate - very odd news judgment. They apparently didn't even LOOK for the information that was available in the public record. All too common these days, but awful, lazy, negligent journalism.

    4. Democrats have for too long let Republicans roll over us with unethical acts, illegal tactics, illegitimate slurs, etc. If our candidates aren't willing to take them on specifically on those issues when they do surface, we'll continue to lose more seats than we should. Look at the pattern of Republican PAC expenditures and the nature of the campaigns around the state this cycle and it's obvious that we're not in a FAIR fight to begin with, so if we "take the high road" we're not being noble, we're being patsies.

    As to whether I'm qualified to pass judgment, history will tell, but I've been in Oregon politics for a long time. I'm betting that Nelson won't last the full term, she'll be replaced by someone who doesn't have any of her negatives, and our chance for this district will have been lost.

    Hope I'm wrong and you're right.

  • (Show?)

    Looking at Nelson's contributors without knowing who they are can be difficult-- there are a lot of organizations out there filing C&Es. Currently there is no easy way to do this without looking through thousands of pages of C&E reports. Usually these things are found by accident when you're looking at something else, or when you're looking at previous contributors to a candidate.

    With the new system it will be much easier, as each transaction is fully searchable-- no more thousands of pages of PDF files.

  • (Show?)

    Anonymous - If Nelson deposited those checks and lied about it, it will come out in the investigation.

    Noblesse - I could have chosen to spend my limited time and my limited campaign resources in the last few days of the campaign figuring out a way to get dirt on my opponent based on an unsubstantiated allegation, or I could have spent my time doing exactly what I did: Getting mailers out, calling constituents, doing some door knocking, etc.

    I don't regret my decision.

    I'd also argue that the News Register, Oregonian, or whomever broke this story was right to hold off on it until they had obtained all of the facts. You wanted them to report a "possibility that someone might file a complaint" as news a few days before the election, in an attempt to influence the outcome.

    It was wrong when Chuck Adams and Goli Omeri's camp colluded with the Oregonian to do that sort of thing to David Wu, and it wouldn't have been right for me to do it either.

    This business of winning elections by tearing down another person, in this case trying literally to destroy the other person, for partisan or personal gain is flat out wrong in my view. It promotes cynicism and mistrust among the general public, it makes it harder to work together to achieve consensus, and I'm not going to do it without cause.

    The way these allegations against Nelson unfolded happened in exactly the way that they should have.

  • (Show?)


    I don't live in your district but if you decide to run again you can count on a contribution from me.

  • (Show?)

    Sal argued the moral point for restraint in mud slinging, but there is also the pragmatic opposition to the tactic.

    The NAVs, who you may recall, are often paying very little attention to detail, have a tendency to rally to support the poor-lady-that's-being-picked-on by the evil challenger. Regardless of the facts of a given situation.

    Some of the pros may back me up on this (or not), but I think that going negative is a complex play and demands very careful handling to avoid the aforementioned blowback.


    Out here in the brush, we volunteers were more than ready to grab any pretext to attack the incumbent. The campaign (I believe rightly) shut us down. Our candidate lost but she'll probably run again and she won't start out smelling like a cowpie.

    The tactic of tarring your opponent is very effective given the right scandal and skillful message delivery, but it is with peril.

  • LT (unverified)

    Thanks, Pat. I think Sal acted in a way that he can look back on this 10 years from now and be proud of making the right decision. Those who say otherwise may never have been on the wrong side of a rumor or known anyone who was thus affected.

    I don't believe "negative campaigns work" and as I recall the Portland City Club broadcast in early November, Lisa Grove made that point which seemed to come as somewhat of a surprise.

    Yes, some candidates have won some elections running negative campaigns. But there are a couple of problems with the grand generality--definition of negative and other factors. It is hard to isolate if the negative campaign alone won or if perhaps one candidate was better known than the other one or had more volunteers. And about definition: if you say an opponent is rude, unprincipled, and possibly guilty of an election law violation, and I say an opponent's vote against HB 1234 was disgusting, are we both running negative campaigns?

    Anyone who thinks negative campaigns work should tell us about the victory parties for Gov.elect Saxton and Cong. elect Mike Erickson. It is arguable that Rush Limbaugh's reaction to the positive stem cell issue Michael J. Fox ad elected Clair McCaskill.

    And the granddaddy of them all --what Republicans and Saxby Chambliss did to Max Cleland could have unintended consequences. In six years a lot of people can change their minds, can move into a jurisdiction, can become old enough to vote. It will be very interesting to see incumbent Chambliss run for re-election. If everyone offended by that 2002 campaign contributes time or money to the Chambliss challenger, Chambliss could have a real fight on his hands.

    Don't generalize about NAV+ other. In traditional poli sci textbooks they are portrayed as not caring about politics. But I was NAV for almost 6 years when I was fed up with both parties and am only now registered Dem. to vote in primaries. I believe that the fastest growing party is no party at all. And I know some people who were NAV for basically the same reason I was who have since registered Dem. Did they instantly become more interested in details when they left NAV to register with a party?

  • Sid Leader (unverified)

    The smart money says Donna gets off, but the D.A. indicts her hat.

  • Jesus Christ (unverified)

    [offensive off-topic comment deleted. -editor.]

  • TeaBagger (unverified)
    <h2>[offensive off-topic comment deleted. -editor.]</h2>
in the news 2006

connect with blueoregon