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Earlier last week, state Rep. Mary Nolan, D-Portland, issued a press release brimming with accusations against Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz. Nolan, who is running to unseat Fritz, said the incumbent had inaccurately claimed an endorsement from NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon:
"Fritz publicly claimed to be endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, both on her website and in the voter’s guide. However, NARAL has given its sole endorsement to Mary Nolan. Fritz vowed to change the listing on her website and issue a statement correcting the error, but has failed to do so," the press release stated.
The city of Portland doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with federal and state abortion policies. Still, an endorsement from a reproductive rights group probably matters in a left-leaning city where the two leading candidates for a council seat are both Democrats and women. Also, it just looks bad when a candidate makes up an endorsement. We set to find out the truth.
First we checked the state Voters’ Pamphlet. Fritz lists among her supporters "NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon Choice Action Team." On her campaign website, she lists a "green light" designation from both "Basic Rights Oregon PAC (co-designation) and NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon Choice Action Team."
Naturally you’re asking, what’s a choice action team and what’s a green light designation?
The NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon PAC Board makes endorsements only at the statewide and legislative level, said executive director Michele Stranger Hunter. The Choice Action Team is a group of active volunteers within NARAL that studies local races and simply identifies whether the candidate is pro-choice or not. The Choice Action Team can only "green-light" a candidate; the team cannot make endorsements.
NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon made an exception for Nolan, Stranger Hunter said, because of her exceptional advocacy. Nolan is able to get campaign help from NARAL.
We asked Fritz if she had claimed an "endorsement" from NARAL. The commissioner emailed to say that she "mistakenly put NARAL ProChoice Oregon Choice Action Team" under the list of union and other group endorsements on her campaign website. Contacted by NARAL, Fritz reorganized her web site to make sure voters knew there was no endorsement, she said.
Fritz also offered to PolitiFact Oregon statements of endorsements by NARAL’s Choice Action Team filed with county elections officials. They are signed by Caitlin Campbell, a field organizer, and allow the use of her name and the Choice Action Team. Fritz did not mention the group in The Oregonian’s Voter Guide at NARAL’s request.
We went back to Nolan and told her Fritz had specified the Choice Action Team online and in print. Nolan, in response, told PolitiFact Oregon that Fritz should not cite any part of NARAL given that there is an endorsed candidate in the race.
We called Todd Foster, chairman of NARAL’s political action committee. He said that a green-light does not mean the group supports the candidate, despite Campbell’s signed statement. So Fritz cannot claim support or an endorsement. (And neither can a lot of other candidates, apparently, including mayoral candidate Eileen Brady, who listed the Choice Action Team under "endorsements" in the Voters’ Pamphlet and another mayoral candidate, Jefferson Smith, who listed the Choice Action Team under "supporters.")
We have one final bit of evidence to share. Nolan’s campaign sent along a clip from the Portland City Club debate March 30, during which Fritz claimed an endorsement from NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon. NARAL contacted her after the event and Fritz apologized and agreed to refrain from stating so in the future.
So where are we with a ruling?
We know Fritz inaccurately stated an endorsement at the City Club debate. But we don’t think we should factor that into the ruling because Nolan did not specify that in her statement, and Fritz amended her connection to NARAL after the March 30 debate.
We also know that most voters likely wouldn’t know the difference between NARAL and its Choice Action Team. They would think the action team is the same as NARAL, when it’s not. So Nolan and NARAL are within their rights to complain about the confusion.
Fritz did claim an endorsement on her website. (Then she fixed it.) But as Nolan argued herself to PolitiFact Oregon, words matter. And here, Fritz did not claim an endorsement from NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon in print. She listed the Choice Action Team under supporters and online as a green-light giver. She even received written permission from a Choice Action Team person to use the group’s name in the Voters’ Pamphlet.
NARAL says Fritz shouldn’t claim support but other candidates are freely doing the same thing without complaint from the group’s leaders.
The statement is accurate about the website, but inaccurate about the voters’ guide. We find Nolan’s statement Half True.
Mary Nolan for City Council, "Mary Nolan Calls on Amanda Fritz to Release Records on Altering Independent Report," April 24, 2012
Interview with and email from Michele Stranger Hunter, executive director, NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, April 24, 26, 2012
Emails from Amanda Fritz, April 25, May 1, 2012
Interview with and emails from KJ Lewis, Nolan campaign manager, April 27, 30, May 1, 2012
Interview with Mary Nolan, April 30, 2012
Interview with Todd Foster, April 30, 2012
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