Portland Mayor Kate Snyder vowed on Tuesday to push for greater transparency about how much money is being spent to influence local elections after some finance reports were not made public this month.

Snyder said she has asked the city clerk to verify that the city has received all of the necessary campaign finance reports that were due Friday and to post them on the city’s website. She said she would work with her fellow councilors to set a clear expectation that such reports be promptly posted online when they are received.

Mayor Kate Snyder says she wants to change Portland’s cumbersome and tedious process for campaign finance reporting. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“We care very much about transparency, especially with the money coming in to influence local election matters,” Snyder said. “I want to go the route of electronic filing so they’re available immediately.”

Opponent’s of five referendum questions have raised over $640,000 so far this campaign. And the top three candidates in last year’s mayoral election raised a combined total of over $360,000.

Snyder’s request comes after the Press Herald raised concerns Friday about missing finance reports.

The most egregious example was the Portland Homeowners and Tenants Coalition, a political action committee formed by Airbnb to oppose Question E on the city ballot that would ban more than 400 nonowner-occupied and tenant-occupied short-term rentals.

The group’s quarterly report, which was due Oct. 5, was not disclosed until Tuesday morning, after City Hall was alerted by a reporter that it was missing. That report listed a single, $125,000 contribution from Airbnb and absolutely no other cash contributions. That means the other campaigns and residents have not known the full extent of the corporation’s funding of the campaign for nearly a month.

Another missing report – from Kenneth Capron, who is seeking a District 5 seat on the council – also was disclosed Tuesday by City Hall.

Chris Korzen, a Portland resident who helps lead the Portland Homeowners and Tenants Coalition, said the campaign emailed a copy on Friday and their attorney also mailed a copy. After calling City Hall to make sure they had it, Korzen said that it “sounds like they have been swamped and haven’t been printing out electronic filings, rather waiting until the hard copies arrive.”

Portland has been using a cumbersome and tedious process for campaign finance reporting for years.

Candidates are required to file them in paper form at City Hall. Anyone who wants to view the reports, which are public records, needs to go to view them in person at City Hall, or wait for them to be scanned and uploaded more than a month after the election. And in most cases it has uploaded one giant document with all of the reports from the previous campaign cycle.

Many campaigns download electronic forms used by the state and enter information about their contributions, expenditures, debts and loans, including spreadsheets, only to print them out and take them to City Hall in person. Even campaigns have expressed frustration that the city doesn’t have a better system.

Em Burnett, who worked on Snyder’s mayoral campaign and is now volunteering for People First Portland, a political action committee formed by the Southern Maine Democratic Socialists of America in support of its referendum questions, said the error “looks like it was a misstep but also a reflection of the outdated system.”

“Better systems exist (including our state’s own filing system), and we should be demanding reform here,” Burnett said. “It’s not the fault of the clerk or of any public servant who is working hard to get this info. But at a certain point, we’d hope our elected officials and city leaders see the benefits to transparency both for the public and especially for city staff, whose jobs are made unnecessarily difficult by outdated systems.”

Snyder said she’d like the city to move toward the state’s filing system. She said the council will likely take up the issue with the clerk during an annual evaluation.

“It’s the council’s responsibility to make sure these reports are available to the public online, especially now during a pandemic when people don’t feel comfortable coming into City Hall,” Snyder said. “We have got have this reporting available electronically.”

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