Don’t Trust Strangers: Politics Edition

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We have a transparency problem in this town and it seems to keep coming from the same source.

In 2019, when Bend City Council was considering the Community Climate Action Plan – a key package meant to meaningfully address climate change at the local level – a group called “Affordable Bend” materialized out of nowhere to fight the inclusion of home energy scores in the climate plan.

Affordable Bend consisted of nothing more than a sparse website imploring people to send a form letter to council and a Facebook page frantically trying to create a sense of urgency.

There was never a business or nonprofit registration using that name, nor were there any lobbyist disclosures in that name. The website and Facebook page offered no further insights into who built it, who paid for it, who wrote the form letter – nothing.

Affordable Bend ran ads on Facebook. Money was being spent on political lobbying. Typically, that requires disclosure.

Data leaks in various ways on the internet. It soon became apparent that Jennifer Stephens was at least seemingly managing the Facebook page for Affordable Bend. Stephens worked with Republican political consultant, Jeff Eager, and has also worked on several local Republican campaigns – including Cheri Helt’s last year when she ran those ads.

The inclusion of a home energy score was altered in the final Community Climate Action Plan thanks to the insistence of Councilors Justin Livingston and Chris Piper. Affordable Bend lauded them.

Just last week we saw the launch of a new group called the Bend Humanity Coalition. This organization was incorporated as a 501(c)(4) organization with only Jeff Eager’s name listed. As opposed to 501(c)(3)s, these type of organizations are allowed to engage in political activity. While there are many great organizations out there using this structure, it is also the go-to format for dark money groups. No disclosure of donors is required.

Again, there is a sparse website for the Bend Humanity Coalition imploring people to send a form letter to council and a Facebook page frantically trying to create a sense of urgency.

The website and Facebook page offers no further insights into who built it, who paid for it, who wrote the form letter – nothing.

When you hear the word “coalition” you think it is comprised of actual people and organizations. We have no way of knowing if that’s true about this 501(c)(4) lobbying entity registered in the name of a known political consultant.

By contrast, look at the transparency from the Human Dignity Coalition – an actual coalition of people and organizations allied for human rights and serving the local LGBTQ community: Here is their board of directors and here are their community partners. Easy!

We know Jeff Eager – former mayor of Bend – is involved because he did press about the new group last week and put his name on the documentation. Stephens has shared the group’s message on social media, but her involvement is confirmed when you sign up for the website’s mailing list:

Who else is involved? No clue! They won’t tell us!

Perhaps more details will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead?

In the meantime, Eager and Stephens are ducking questions about who exactly is involved in this “coalition”.

People in their political circle like Chris Piper, Former Bend City Councilorâ„¢ are repeating the message on social media and similarly ducking questions about it. Piper in particular gingerly replied to comments on Facebook posted AFTER others asked for more insight into this organization, while leaving those questions unanswered. Seems like a snub.

I’ve been wondering what would be next for the business wing of the local Republican Party.

While they long ago abdicated the party apparatus to the likes of Phil Henderson, who’s off chasing conspiracies in Arizona and shitposting on Facebook, they had at least been active in backing candidates for local office. Then, the Bend Chamber largely sat out 2020 races and this broader contingent was mostly quiet during recent school board races.

The local political landscape is no longer favorable to their usual narratives. So, will another Bill Moseley come along with a platform of “a noun, a verb, and potholes”? Or will it be something else?

With Jeff Eager, who has consulted for several losing Republican candidates, pushing this new organization forward during a time when candidates for the next election traditionally begin to declare, it sounds like the business wing of the local Republican Party found its platform for next year’s city council and mayoral races.

They just haven’t found their candidates yet.

Let’s take a moment to marvel at the audacity of this group’s premise, articulated by Chris Piper, who may or may not speak for the group – he won’t tell us:

There are lot of people working very seriously on this issue. Most of them are unpaid or underpaid and do the work because they are passionate about helping community.

You can find many of them under the Homeless Leadership Coalition, who – as a real coalitionmanages to use a website to tell you who is involved.

Where support for the work of these various helpers has faltered in the past was often in support from elected policymakers. That is starting to change.

There’s a real irony then, that the only people we can find seemingly speaking on behalf of this new organization are a former mayor (Eager), two former councilors (Piper and Victor Chudowsky, who is copypasting a condescending comment that starts with “Gee”), and a consultant who worked to get more councilors like them elected (Stephens).

As if to compound the irony, commenters on Facebook news articles about this new organization are spewing bile like, “Put them in city councilors yards.

That’s backlash to change right there.

Why does this matter? Aren’t these folks entitled to their opinions?

Opinions are fine. Organizing a political influence operation carries certain responsibilities.

There is a lot that can be done short of mandatory disclosure requirements. We may never find out who exactly is involved with this group. On its own, that’s fine. As part of a pattern, that’s concerning.

Affordable Bend wasn’t the only front group stood up by the business wing of the local Republican Party. Tim Knopp, for example, has propped up a lot of shell organizations over the years. [I still owe you an article on that! — Eric]

Politics is how we manage our civic life. It depends on trust. Trust depends on transparency, on honesty. There’s always room for strategery, bombast, and more in politics, but we have to keep trust.

This new organization starts insulting you with its name and goes on to insult you by its actions. Transparency matters.

My name is at the top of this article. Who else is involved with this new organization? We deserve to know.

Eric Lint lives in Bend

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