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December 14th, 2011 12:01 am NIGEL JAQUISS | Elections

It’s All in the Game

Rob Cornilles’ pursuit of tax breaks and his shrinking company challenge his campaign image as a “Job Creator.”

news1-cornilles_3806Republican candidate for Congress Rob Cornilles campaigns at Pioneer Courthouse Square. - IMAGE: vivianjohnson.com
Rob Cornilles hasn’t seen his campaign message that he’s a “job creator” go quite like he’d hoped. 

Cornilles is the Republican nominee in the Jan. 31 special election to replace former U.S. Rep. David Wu. He’s running by talking up his credentials on the No. 1 issue voters want to hear about: creating Oregon jobs.

His proof has been the success of his sports marketing company, Game Face, which his campaign claims is “one of the most influential consulting and executive training firms in the sports industry—worldwide.”

But news reports have since shrunk those claims down to size, citing problems with regulators, tax liens and the fact his company is a ghost of its former self.

What has received less attention is one of Cornilles’ chief campaign pitches: that tax breaks hurt small businesses and their ability to create jobs.

“Who gets stuck paying a full tax bill?” Cornilles asks on his campaign website. “People like you and me, and small and medium-sized companies like the ones in Oregon that don’t have tens of millions of dollars to stuff the tax code with special-interest perks.”

HERE’S THE PITCH: Cornilles' ad.

But earlier this year, Cornilles led a team that proposed revamping Portland’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum—a plan that counted on millions of tax breaks for its investors.

Cornilles and his partners proposed an $80 million remodel of Memorial Coliseum that relied on big tax breaks for its investors.

He and his partners, financier Kirk Iverson and producer Tim Lawrence, sought to turn the Coliseum into what they called an “Oregon Media Free Enterprise Zone.”

Dubbed the Veterans Media Center, the former Coliseum site would become a giant multimedia facility, including sound stages, production studios and three theaters.

“This concept is quintessentially Portland,” Cornilles says on the proposal’s website. “Veterans Media Center will fuse Oregon’s creativity and natural resources with an industry searching for a more sustainable place to produce innovative content. We’ll create family wage jobs while expanding a market, and our region will experience such an economic boon that we’ll find ourselves front and center on the worldwide media stage.”

The proposal counted on substantial tax breaks for investors, who “will receive a 100% State of Oregon (transferable) tax write-off in addition to federal matching incentives co-developed by the City,” according to a May business plan. 

Backers said at the time the proposal could be eligible for as much as $30 million in tax credits.

Cornilles and his partners held a flurry of meetings with elected officials and business leaders this year to pitch the idea.

When WW asked Cornilles about the potential tax breaks, however, he said he didn’t recall they were part of his partnership’s proposal. (News of the potential for tax credits for the project, however, appeared in news reports; see “Lights! Camera! Coliseum!” WW, May 18, 2011.)

When shown a copy of his group’s plan, he said one of his partners wrote it.

“I’m not as familiar with it as you might think,” Cornilles says. “It was not a formal proposal.” He said the plan was simply “a concept.”

The plan so far has had little traction, and Cornilles continues to use his company, Game Face, to bolster his campaign claims that he’s a job creator.

“Oregon needs job creators and career builders, something Rob has been doing successfully for nearly 20 years,” his campaign says. “Voters of the First Congressional District have an alternative. In this Special Election, we can choose between a career politician or a career builder.”

His opponent, state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Beaverton), has no record of job creation. She’s worked as a government lawyer for three years, and in private practice for another three before giving up her practice to raise a family. 

That’s given Cornilles an open field to talk about his experience as a businessman and to promote his plans to create jobs.

Cornilles founded Game Face Inc., in Tualatin in 1995. Since then, the company has worked in three areas of the sports business. He trained people to become sports franchise employees, recruited front-office personnel for sports teams, and advised and trained teams how to sell more tickets. 

“We have an unusual and unprecedented ability to actually know what teams want and need,” Cornilles tells WW.

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