U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Oregon Public Broadcasting, reporter sued by Portland to block records release

Incident Details


A portion of a complaint filed by the City of Portland on Jan. 22, 2024, against Oregon Public Broadcasting and reporter Monica Samayoa, seeking to block the release of public records about businesses that paid into Portland’s clean energy fund.

January 22, 2024

The City of Portland sued Oregon Public Broadcasting and one of its reporters on Jan. 22, 2024, seeking to block the release of public records about businesses that paid taxes to the city’s clean energy fund, according to court documents reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

The suit stemmed from an October 2023 public records request filed by OPB environmental reporter Monica Samayoa that sought a list of companies that paid into the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund in 2022, according to the complaint and local media reports. Samayoa also asked for the amounts each company paid to the fund in 2022.

The fund is a voter-approved program that pays for climate initiatives by applying a 1% tax to Portland businesses with earnings over certain thresholds.

The city denied the request, citing taxpayers’ right to confidentiality. The outlet petitioned Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt, who on Jan. 8 ordered the city to release the records “in such a format as to not associate any individual business name with any dollar amount,” according to the complaint.

Instead of turning over the documents, the city filed suit against OPB and Samayoa in Multnomah County Circuit Court, seeking to block their release. The city argued that releasing the records would violate local, state and federal laws protecting the taxpayers’ confidentiality, and that Oregon’s public records law provided for exemptions on these grounds.

OPB and Samayoa on March 6 filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and award the defendants legal costs, according to court documents reviewed by the Tracker. In the motion, the defendants argued that the city’s lawsuit isn’t permitted under the Oregon Public Records Law, which restricts such actions to those seeking public records. “In short, only requesters should decide if a trip to court is worth the time and expense.”

In a statement emailed to the Tracker on March 27, OPB said: “By bringing this suit, the City of Portland is effectively saying that Oregonians who exercise their rights under public records law may be sued. That result would harm journalism and it would have a chilling effect on public inquiry.”

The suit also prompted business groups in February to lobby state legislators to change Oregon’s Public Records Law to prohibit local governments from disclosing nearly all taxpayer information, The Oregonian reported. After pushback on the proposed changes from press and transparency groups, the legislature ultimately added language to Oregon’s tax law on March 7 clarifying that local government agencies are required to follow the same confidentiality guidelines as the Oregon Department of Revenue, news reports said.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].