A political action committee formed last summer to oppose Mayor Ethan Strimling’s re-election campaign has raised nearly $19,000, primarily from people in the real estate industry.

The report filed Monday by Unite Portland covers fundraising and spending from July 1 to Sept. 30 and provides the first public look at the group’s supporters. However, the report does not provide a clear picture of who is being paid to produce a series of digital ads. Unite Portland spent nearly $15,000 during the period but says only that the money was given to a recently created limited liability corporation with a mailing address in Scarborough.

Tom Watson, owner of Port Property Management, one of the largest landlords in Portland, and James Brady, a boutique hotel developer, each donated $5,000 to the PAC. Rachael Alfond, who does not list an occupation but is married to former state Sen. Justin Alfond, also donated $5,000 and Cyrus Hagge, a real estate businessman, gave $2,500.

So far, Unite Portland, which says it’s not affiliated with any of the candidates in the four-way mayor’s race, has released six videos calling for either a new mayor or a fresh approach at City Hall. The ads say that the conflict and division between Strimling and the city manager and city councilors is preventing progress on major issues facing Portland, including a lack of affordable housing. And they say Strimling is the source of that conflict.

Unite Portland has paid $10,000 for campaign consulting and media production and roughly $4,665 in digital advertising. Both services were provided by the TCV Group, a limited liability company that was formed in July and lists 201 U.S. Route One in Scarborough as an address. The address corresponds to a small strip mall with a UPS store that offers mailboxes, as well as a restaurant and other small businesses. The report does not detail who exactly is producing the videos or what entities are being paid to display the ads.

Gregory Dorr, an attorney who lists a Bangor mailing address, is the only authorized person of the company, according to the LLC’s articles of incorporation filed with the state. Dory Waxman, a former city councilor, has served as spokesperson for Unite Portland and has not provided financial details beyond what is in the report.

“As our online video participants and donors demonstrate, Unite Portland is a diverse group of concerned citizens who believe our current mayor is dividing our city and holding us back from making real progress,” Waxman said in a written statement. “Our supporters come from all walks of life – affordable housing advocates, environmentalists, progressive activists, retirees, former elected officials, conservatives and small business owner(s). These individuals might rarely see eye to eye on most issues. They are united, however, in believing that it’s time for a new mayor.”

It’s unusual for a PAC to form against a specific candidate in a city election, but it’s not unprecedented. In 2008, the League of Responsible Voters PAC took out a newspaper insert against Ed Suslovic, who was running for City Council against Waxman and two other candidates.

Strimling, who has raised nearly $150,000 for his re-election campaign, said the report shows overlap between the PAC’s supporters and supporters of one his opponents, City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau.

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling

“I’m not surprised that 97 percent of the money this shady PAC raised came directly from Spencer Thibodeau’s donors,” Strimling said in a written statement. “In fact, over 90 percent of it came from just four of the most powerful real estate developers in the city because they know Spencer will continuing being their mouthpiece if he becomes mayor.”

Strimling’s campaign manager Stephanie Clifford said they are considering filing a complaint over the lack of spending disclosures. “It’s a shady group and they’re trying very hard to hide behind a curtain,” Clifford said.

Thibodeau, a real estate attorney who has raised $90,000, said in a written statement he’s focusing on running a positive campaign.

“People I talk with are tired of negative attacks and divisive politics,” Thibodeau said. “I’ll keep running a positive campaign about my vision for Portland and how we lower property taxes, improve our schools, and support local businesses.”

Strimling is also being challenged by former School Board Chair Kate Snyder and waiter Travis Curran.

Snyder said in a written statement that she’s running a local, community-based campaign, with all of her $70,000 in contributions coming from people with connections to Portland, the campaign or herself directly. She said she’d like to work with the city clerk to modernize the city’s campaign finance reporting system to make it more transparent.

“It concerns me when the public feels they are in the dark about who is spending money in Portland elections,” Snyder said. “I hear from voters all the time about how they are tired of partisan, DC-style tactics used in Portland politics from PACs or advocacy groups on either end of the political spectrum.”

Curran could not be reached Monday afternoon.

As mayor, Strimling has proposed policies that would restrict some rights of private property owners and increase the costs of doing business in the city. For example, he proposed an ordinance that would allow the city to limit rent increases and require landlords to accept tenants whose rents are paid with Sec. 8 housing vouchers, a statewide program that is currently voluntary. He also advocated for mandatory leases and a 90-day notification period for ending an at-will tenancy.

He also proposed clamping down on short term rentals such as those advertised by Airbnb, including raising registration fees by 400 percent in some cases. He’s also proposed increasing other development-related fees and increasing the amount of affordable housing that certain developers must build.

Watson, who could not be reached for comment Monday, also is in the process of buying Bayside Village and converting 100 relatively affordable quad apartments, in which each bedroom is rented separately, into traditional apartments. Strimling has said on social media he asking staff for “any and all options to block/stall/slow this unfortunate development,” because some argue it would mean the loss of some of the last affordable housing on the peninsula.

One of Unite Portland’s online videos featured Dana Totman, the president and CEO of Avesta Housing, a nonprofit housing developer. In the ad, Totman urged city leaders to unite and take a fresh approach to finding solutions to the city’s affordable housing crisis, saying the current approach is not working.

However, Totman asked the group to remove the ad after a community member criticized it as a possible violation of Avesta’s tax free status, which prohibits political activity. Totman said he asked for the ad to be taken down because of harassment and defended the message as being consistent with laws that prohibit nonprofit charities from participating in elections.

Steven Biel, president and co-founder of Progressive Portland, which is supporting Strimling’s re-election, repeatedly described the ad as illegal on social media and criticized Unite Portland for posting it. Biel has criticized Unite Portland as a “shady … dark money” PAC.

On Monday, Waxman pointed out that Unite Portland has revealed more about its donors and spending than Progressive Portland has.

“Unite Portland also believes that Portlanders have a right to know who is influencing their election and we are proud to transparently report our donors,” Waxman said. “That stands in stark contrast to the group, Progressive Portland, that is directly fundraising for and coordinating with Ethan Strimling’s campaign. Progressive Portland has never disclosed where its money comes from and we call on Ethan to unequivocally repudiate Progressive Portland unless or until they fully disclose their dark money sources.”

Biel has declined to disclose donors to Progressive Portland, which is a social welfare nonprofit that is allowed to engage in political activity as long as it is not its primary purpose. Such nonprofit groups are not legally obligated to disclose individual donors, but also are not prohibited from doing so.

In an Oct. 3 post, Progressive Portland said it would not be filing a campaign finance report because it has not expended any money on behalf of a candidate. However, the group has been helping Strimling raise money, by leveraging its email list and encouraging its followers to donate directly to Strimling’s campaign. Biel has also been canvassing for the mayor and has been attacking Thibodeau.

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