The people who run the nonprofit event organizer TEDxPortland have “been better educated about the issues surrounding political activity and will avoid all such activity into the future,” an Oregon Department of Justice official wrote last week in response to people who complained after TEDxPortland invited just one of the three leading candidates for governor — unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson — to speak to thousands of people at the Moda Center on May 28.
In the days following Johnson’s unannounced appearance, multiple people filed complaints with the Oregon Department of Justice urging the agency to investigate whether TEDxPortland violated rules governing charities by bestowing the valuable platform to a single political candidate for Oregon’s highest elected office.
One person wrote to the Oregon Department of Justice that Johnson’s appearance “is an egregious abuse of their nonprofit status … The harm done to the election process is significant.” Another attendee complained that ticket holders “unwittingly financed a political commercial for her. All attendees should be refunded.”
Nonprofits “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office … Violation of this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of excise tax,” according to IRS guidance to nonprofits.
Johnson is a former longtime Democratic state lawmaker who left her party to run for governor. Democrat Tina Kotek is the former House speaker and Republican candidate Christine Drazan is the former House minority leader.
Kristina Edmunson, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, said in an email Tuesday that the agency referred complainants to an IRS webpage where people can file complaints. Douglas W. Pearson, chief investigator in the Department of Justice’s Charitable Activities Section, wrote in an email to one complainant that “we have since been contacted by (TEDxPortland’s) legal counsel who has advised us that the organization has been better educated about the issues surrounding political activity and will avoid all such activity into the future.”
A spokesperson for the IRS declined to comment on whether the agency received or is investigating any complaints against TEDxPortland.
— Hillary Borrud