Portland Business Owners Say They Ended Up On Campaign Material They Didn’t Actually Support

Eva Liu doesn’t support the Portland gross receipts tax measure on the ballot this November.

That’s according to the Multnomah County Voter’s Pamphlet, at least, which includes about a quarter of a page of arguments “furnished by Eva Lui” in opposition to the measure. Her corner of the pamphlet implores voters to vote “no” on Measure 26-201, the ballot initiative that would impose a one percent tax on the gross revenue large retailers generate in Portland in order to create a clean energy fund.

But Liu doesn’t actually oppose the measure, which she says she supports because of rising utility bills at her Northeast Portland restaurant of 18 years. Proponents of the measure, which would use money generated from the tax to fund clean energy projects and jobs around the city, notified Liu of her presence on the voter’s pamphlet. Her photo also appeared on the “No On 26-201” website.

“I didn’t know my name was on there,” Liu told OPB. “They even had the last name wrong.”

Proponents of the measure filed a formal election complaint with the Secretary of State’s office asking for an investigation into how two business owners appeared on campaign material they didn’t actually support. They say Liu and another business owner were misled by the Keep Portland Affordable PAC — the group opposing the gross receipts tax — into falsely supporting the opposition campaign.

“I didn’t realize that I was signing on to oppose the Portland Clean Energy Initiative,” Liu wrote in a letter to the Keep Portland Affordable PAC Tuesday.

The complaint alleges the PAC intentionally misled at least two small business owners — both immigrants whose second language is English — into signing documents they believed endorsed another measure. The group says the two owners were led to believe they were being asked to support measure 103, which would prohibit taxes on groceries.

Documents included in the complaint show 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.

Both business owners have since expressed their support for the gross receipts tax measure. Keep Portland Affordable PAC has removed their photos from its website.

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

“It was made very clear what the measure is and what support was being requested,” Keep Portland Affordable PAC said in an emailed statement. “If Ms. Liu, or other supporters, change their positions on the measure, we will of course abide by any of their requests.”

The ‘no’ campaign said its outreach efforts include a website sign-up, social media, or individual outreach and relationship building. Documents show Liu signed an official document for the County Elections office noting opposition for measure 26-201 on Sept. 10. She said canvassers who’d entered her restaurant did not tell her explicitly that the document was related to the gross receipts tax measure. The complaint argues that even though Liu and Lal signed legal documents, “the ‘no’ campaign made no efforts to ensure that Ms. Liu or Mr. Hal (sic) understood the legal documents they were signing.”

“They said, ‘keep Portland affordable’ – I remember those words,” Liu said, referring to canvassers who entered her restaurant this summer. “I thought I was signing for no grocery tax.”

The gross receipts tax measure would not apply to groceries, medicine or health care services, and the Keep Portland Affordable PAC said it does not collaborate with the Yes on 103 campaign. It also says it has not heard directly from Lal about the use of his image on their website. Lal signed a similar letter to the one Liu sent to the PAC, stating he did not realize he was signing documents opposing the Portland Clean Energy Initiative.

Hari Lal said he supports the gross receipts tax measure on the ballot this November.

As for the language that ended up in the voter’s pamphlet, Liu said she doesn’t recognize any of it.

“Immigrants who speak English as a second language are particularly vulnerable to manipulation and that’s what happened,” said Khanh Pham, manager of immigrant organizing at the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon. APANO is on the steering committee for the clean energy fund measure.

Lal, meanwhile, told supporters behind the clean energy measure that he could not remember anyone taking his photo, which has since been removed from the Keep Portland Affordable website. He only remembers someone dropping off “Yes on 103” signs, literature and magnets.

Since taking down their photos, no local business owner is featured on the Keep Portland Affordable homepage.

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