Developers of the Bradwood Landing liquefied natural gas project have admitted to spending $30,178 on research polling and a mailer supporting the Sept. 16 referendum on building natural gas pipelines on Clatsop County park land.
In a document filed the day after the anti-LNG group Columbia Riverkeeper and the referendum opposition group Clatsop Citizens for Common Sense submitted a complaint to the Oregon Secretary of State last week, Bradwood Landing LLC reported spending $12,500 on a research survey and $17,678 on a mailing, both supporting a "yes" vote on Clatsop County Measure 4-131.
The company filed the document a few days after refusing to say whether it was paying for the poll.
Measure 4-131 will ask voters whether they want to allow natural gas pipelines, sewer and cable lines on county land reserved for open space and recreation. The referendum stems from the Clatsop County Commission's decision to approve Bradwood's natural gas pipeline route extending west from the project site 20 miles east of Astoria on the Columbia River.
Last week, referendum opponents claimed Bradwood Landing project developer NorthernStar Natural Gas Inc. had paid for an illegal "push poll" in the county, trying to convince residents to vote "yes" on the measure without reporting the expense as required by state campaign finance laws.
The state is investigating the complaint.
Jennifer Hertel, compliance specialist in the Oregon Secretary of State's office, sent a letter to Bradwood Landing's community liaison Pete Hackett last week noting her office received the complaint on Aug. 20, the same day the company filed its statement of independent expenditures.
The company denies allegations that it engaged in "push polling" and argues it has accurately reported its campaign expenditures.
But challengers argue the company should be subject to fines for failing to report the expenses before the state's deadline.
Clatsop County residents report receiving phone calls on the referendum starting Aug. 1, but in Bradwood Landing's report the expense was dated Aug. 13.
The Secretary of State's reporting date is the day a contract is entered, not the day the bill is paid, the challengers argue.
"It's good we have forced Bradwood to admit they were behind these polls, but it doesn't change the fact that they have violated campaign finance laws and need to be held accountable," said Columbia Riverkeeper Executive Director Brent Foster.
Joe Desmond, vice president of external relations for NorthernStar, said he is confident the state will determine the company has followed all the rules.
He accused referendum opponents of trying to mislead voters in a mailed postcard that called Bradwood's natural gas pipeline an LNG pipeline and implied it will threaten public parks when it is proposed on private property.