Business interests have donated tens of thousands of dollars to defeat the June 10 referendum on Portland’s parks, while just three individuals have bankrolled most of the opposing campaign, according to finance reports.

As the referendum campaign enters its final week, both sides are ramping up their efforts to sway Portland voters through mailers, fliers and public relations campaigns. But reports filed with the city show the two sides have very different fundraising strategies in a campaign dominated by debate about Congress Square Plaza’s future.

Protect Portland Parks – the “Yes on 1” group pushing to give city voters more say over proposals to sell city-owned parks, including Congress Square Plaza – received $30,000 in loans from three individuals and just $195 in donations from other individuals between April 1 and May 29.

By contrast, Forward Portland, the organization fighting the referendum and supporting the city’s plan to sell part of Congress Square Plaza to a hotel developer, received dozens of donations totaling more than $40,000. While those donations ran the gamut from $20 to $15,000, the bulk of the cash came from three organizations.

The Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce donated $15,000 while the would-be buyer of part of Congress Square Plaza, a company known as RB Portland Building LLC, donated $7,500. A third organization, Bayside Maine LLC, donated $10,000.

“Our donations are coming from people and organizations in Portland and throughout the area who are concerned about the revitalization of Congress Square,” said Ian Grady, spokesman for Forward Portland.

Protect Portland Parks, meanwhile, is employing a more unconventional campaign finance strategy to support passage of the referendum.

Rather than solicit donations from a large number of supporters, the organization has received $10,000 loans from three Portland residents: engineer David LaCasse, artist Alison Hildreth and retiree Noni Ames. LaCasse also serves as treasurer of Protect Portland Parks and was a plaintiff in a case to get the referendum on the ballot.

Contrary to rumors about donations from a hotel competitor helping to finance the referendum, the “Yes on 1” campaign has not received money from businesses or corporations, according to Bree LaCasse, David LaCasse’s daughter and one of the volunteer leaders of Protect Portland Parks.

LaCasse said all three donors also helped to finance the earlier effort to get Question 1 on the ballot. The city of Portland lost a legal battle to keep Question 1 off the ballot and will be required to reimburse the legal costs incurred by those behind the petition drive.

LaCasse said Protect Portland Parks expected to use that legal reimbursement to pay back the loans to the current campaign. It was unclear Tuesday how, exactly, that reimbursement would take place. However, Elizabeth Baldacci, who is handling communications for Protect Portland Parks, said the loans were made to get the campaign off the ground “with the expectation that they will be paid back if there is any money from donations at the end. If not, then they become donations.”

Meanwhile, the two sides continued their media campaigns over the initiative.

Members of Forward Portland gathered Tuesday on ground zero of the debate – Congress Square Plaza – to urge voters to reject a ballot question they predicted would halt efforts to revitalize the neighborhood.

Standing in the largely empty park Tuesday morning, former Portland Mayor and City Councilor Jim Cohen said Question 1 was “confusing” and “misleading” because it fails to clearly state what Forward Portland argues is the true intent of the initiative: to retroactively block the planned sale of part of Congress Square Plaza.

“Those of us who have lived here for years and decades know that this park, despite repeated efforts to make it work, is a failed public space,” Cohen said in front of 20 Forward Portland supporters holding “No on 1” signs.

Supporters contend the initiative would strengthen protections for dozens of public spaces in the wake of the city’s attempts to sell part of the plaza.

The ballot initiative would require the city to receive an endorsement from the Land Bank Commission and affirmative votes from eight of the nine city councilors before selling any of the 60 public spaces. If only six or seven councilors approved a sale, the issue would be decided by Portland voters.

The initiative would add Congress Square Plaza – an underutilized park with a bad reputation – to the list of protected places. It would also temporarily block the city from selling part of the park to the developer that renovated the adjacent Eastland Park Hotel – now known as the Westin Portland Harborview – for a planned event center.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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