Progressive ties benefit Portland school bond PAC

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PORTLAND — The political action committee advocating for the school construction bond on the November city ballot got a fundraising boost from Progressive Portland, with several loans totaling more than $1,000.

The loans, made April 27, May 12 and June 8, are more than a third of the nearly $2,700 Protect Our Neighborhood Schools reported raising through June 30 in a semiannual report filed July 17 at City Hall.

While the money marks another step in Progressive Portland’s advocacy for the school bond, city officials agreed with the liberal group’s co-founder, Steven Biel, that the diversity of causes supported by Progressive Portland do not require it to register as a political action committee.

“We are a (ballot question committee) because we were created to work on many issues, not just the bond,” Biel said in a July 21 email responding to a reporter’s questions. “Yes, we strongly support the bond and have spent less than $5,000 to support it. But a group that spends to pass something on the ballot, but was not created for the purpose of that single ballot question, is a BQC, not a PAC, and our threshold is $5,000.”

A May 2 email to Biel from city Election Administrator Melissa Lachance defined Progressive Portland’s status. A ballot committee by state law is not required to file campaign finance reports until it spends or receives $5,000.

The status was reaffirmed July 19 after City Clerk Katherine Jones asked Biel to file as a PAC, but then agreed with Lachance’s earlier assessment.

Protect Our Neighborhood Schools, led by Biel’s wife, Emily Figdor, is campaigning for the $64 million bond question on the Nov. 7 ballot to renovate and repair Longfellow, Lyseth, Presumpscot and Reiche schools.

Biel and Figdor’s 31 Cushman St. home is the mailing address for both Progressive Portland and Protect Our Neighborhood Schools.

Progressive Portland, formed in January with Biel, former School Board candidate Bill Linnell, Marena Blanchard, Michael Langenmayr and Patricia Washburn as its steering committee, has advocated for borrowing to repair and upgrade the schools since the plan was identified as a priority in a poll of the group’s members.

Linnell is no longer on the steering committee.

Before Progressive Portland was formed, Biel and Linnell actively supported what was then a $70 million bond for the school work.

Progressive Portland has also advocated for local support for businesses owned by Muslims; protested the deportation of Naples resident Otto Morales-Caballeros; supported the reform of city tax increment finance policies to include wage and labor requirements for contractors; pressed U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to vote against dismantling the Affordable Care Act; and for more affordable housing to be required of developers who purchase city land in Bayside.

Support for the $64 million bond to fund work on all four schools also led Progressive Portland to advocate against the re-election of City Councilors Jill Duson, Nick Mavodones and Belinda Ray, after their votes prevented the four-school bond from being the only question on the Nov. 7 ballot.

Voters will also have a second referendum, on whether to spend $32 million for work on only two schools.

Duson is opposed by Bree LaCasse and Joey Brunelle for her at-large seat this fall. The terms for seats held by Mavodones and Ray expire in 2018.

“In our view, Councilor Duson satisfied the demands of the voter pledge when she voted for the compromise sending the four-school bond to the voters,” Biel said. “It was in our view an advocacy tool, and it was effective in convincing the council for the first time in 23 years to pass a bond along to the voters.”

While promising to file finance reports “if and when” the $5,000 threshold is crossed, Biel said Progressive Portland may limit its advocacy to the four-school alternative.

“At this point,” he said, “Progressive Portland has no plans to engage in council races this year.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Steven Biel is a co-founder of Progressive Portland, which has loaned more than $1,000 to the political action committee advocating for the school construction bond referendum on Portland’s November ballot.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.