Surprise! Gasoline sellers dominate funding of campaign to stop Portland gas tax

Surprise! Gasoline sellers dominate funding of campaign to stop Portland gas tax

gas tax donors

Outside CalPortland’s rock yard on NW Front Avenue.
(Image: Google Street View)

If you want to understand the behind-the-scenes fundraising battle over a proposed 10-cent local gas tax in Portland, start on the 5000 block of Front Avenue in the Northwest Portland industrial area.

That’s where you’ll find two companies operating on adjacent lots: CalPortland, a pavement supplier whose local vice president gave $5,000 to the “yes” campaign, and McCall Oil and Chemical, a fuel and asphalt distributor that has given $1,800 this year to the PAC running the “no” campaign.

Donors to local campaigns are often driven by financial self-interest, but it doesn’t get much clearer than this.

Based on public records filed so far, a coalition of construction and development firms backing the four-year gas tax is easily outfundraising opponents, almost all of which are companies that sell gasoline.

Fix Our Streets Portland, the campaign backing the gas tax that would raise $64 million over four years for a combination of street repairs and safety upgrades, has reported $46,226 in contributions as of this week, compared to $24,025 in recent contributions to the PAC running the “no” campaign.

The safety upgrades would greatly increase the city’s miniscule standing budget for biking and walking improvements, including $8 million for such projects near schools, $6.4 million for sidewalk infill, $6.3 million to improve crossings and street lights, $3.2 million for protected bike lanes and $2.4 million for neighborhood greenways.

It would also put $36 million toward the $480 million or so that the city says would be needed over that four-year period to prevent any local streets from advancing toward gravel.

Election Day is May 17.

gas tax chart

Local or national contributions to relevant committees since Oct. 5, reported as of March 25. Source: Orestar database.

Major backers of the “yes” campaign include CalPortland Vice President Debra Kantola and Hamilton Construction, a public-works contractor that retrofitted the Broadway Bridge in 2011 to carry Portland Streetcar. Each gave $5,000.

But most of the “yes” campaign’s other $35,000 in support actually comes from major local real estate developers like Martin Kehoe ($2,500), the Zidell Companies ($2,500), Williams/Dame and Associates ($1,500), John Russell ($1,251), Melvin Mark ($1,000) and others.

NW Natural, the local gas company, put up $2,500. Its customers pay a 5 percent utility tax that was once supposed to go in part towards road maintenance but has since been reallocated for other city programs.

Other notable “yes” donors include city commissioners Dan Saltzman ($2,500) and Amanda Fritz ($500), as well as former Bicycle Transportation Alliance board chair Stephen Gomez ($250).

The otherwise inactive campaign of Charlie Hales for Mayor gave $1,000.

Hales and Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick are in charge of the “yes” campaign, according to its public filings, and many of the gas tax donors have been donors to one or both politicians.

For the “no” campaign, the money seems to be coming almost exclusively from people who sell gasoline.

The largest donor is Leathers Enterprises, a Gresham-based company that operates seven retail gas stations in Portland. The firm put up $10,000 on Feb. 29.

That was the most recent transaction reported by the Oregon Fuels Association PAC, the outfit run by Paul Romain and backing the “no” campaign.

Romain has so far been reporting transactions almost immediately. However, there’s a 30-day reporting deadline, so more could be coming in.

New bike racks at Plaid Pantry-1

Plaid Pantry, which sells gasoline at three Portland
locations, contributed to the “no” campaign.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Other large donors to the Oregon Fuels Association PAC since Oct. 5, when Novick announced the gas tax plan, are the national fuel distributor PetroCard ($5,000), Portland-based Carson Oil ($2,375).

McCall Oil & Chemical gave $1,400 to the OFA PAC earlier in 2015 and another $400 within the period since Oct. 5.

OFA PAC was also active in the successful campaign, last November, against a proposed 5-cent local gas tax in Pendleton. We didn’t count contributions from Eastern Oregon donors received before that election for this story. For this year, it’s also registered in opposition to a proposed gas tax hike in Sandy, 20 miles southeast of Portland.

One donor to the “no” campaign on gas taxes was Plaid Pantry, the Beaverton-based convenience store chain that, a few years ago, funded much of the research that poked holes in the Columbia River Crossing freeway-rail expansion. The company contributed $300 to OFA PAC on Dec. 28 for an annual total of $650.

Three Plaid Pantry locations in Portland sell gasoline.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 –

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