As the first state in the nation to adopt mail-in voting and automatic voter registration, Oregon has built a reputation for high voter turnout. In the 2016 general election, 68% of the state’s voting population voted, well above the national average of 60.1%, according to data from the United States Elections Project. Midway through 2018, Oregon had the fourth-highest voter turnout of any state.
But while Oregon voters have their say at the polls, businesses have their say more frequently in the legislature, keeping the state’s politicians inundated with campaign money. Oregon is one of five states that has no limit on campaign contributions made by businesses, and one of eleven that has no limit on individual donations to a candidate.
The result is that Oregon is number one in corporate political donations per capita and sixth overall in total corporate political donations, as The Oregonian pointed out last year in its polluted by money series. “Corporations and industry groups contributed $43 million to winning candidates in elections from 2008 to 2016, nearly half of the money lawmakers raised,” wrote investigative journalist Rob Davis. “Unions, single-issue groups and individual donors have not come together.”
Ahead of the Nov. 3 election, a coalition of state groups calling themselves YES for Fair and Honest Elections is raising the issue of unlimited corporate money in state politics before voters in an initiative vote that would change the state constitution. Their proposal, Voting Measure 107would authorize the state legislature and local governments to set limits on campaign contributions and expenses, require greater disclosure of political expenses, and require political ads to identify the people who pay them. To appear on the ballot this year, the measure was certified by both the House of Representatives and the Oregon Senate, where it passed with almost three-quarters of the majorities and bipartisan support in late June 2019.
The conditions that made Ballot Measure 107 possible took more than two decades to come together, as state lawmakers and money-in-politics reformers grappled with the effects of a series of previous court rulings. . An Oregon Supreme Court in 1997 decision struck down campaign contribution limits that had been enacted in 1994, citing state constitutional protections for free speech. Then in 2006, voters in Oregon pass Ballot Measure 47 by a 53% to 47% vote, which would have banned corporate and union donations to candidates, and limited donations in statewide races to $500 and in races local at $100. But his 2006 companion measure to amend the constitution, Measure 46, was voted down by voters, so the limits were not allowed to go into effect.
In 2016, voters in Multnomah County, which includes the city of Portland, approved by 89% a measure to ban corporate political contributions and limit individual donations to county candidates to $500. In 2018, Portland voters pass the same ban on corporate contributions and limits on individual donations with 87% in favour, showing further support for limiting the influence of big donors.
The campaign finance landscape in Oregon suddenly changed on April 23, 2020, when the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the strict contribution limits passed in 2016 by Multnomah County voters are legal under the state constitution. In effect, it overturned the 1997 ruling, including elements including Chief Justice Martha Walters describe as “wrong” in how they addressed free speech protections and placed Oregon among the 45 other states that set limits or prohibit corporate contributions. April’s decision to apply Going forward, set the table for Ballot Measure 107 to turn off the spigot of unlimited donations to industry lawmakers lobbying the state house.
A notable aspect of the Yes for Fair Elections coalition this year is the number of state groups behind the initiative, Kate Titus, executive director of the nonpartisan group Common Cause Oregon, told Sludge. “Grassroots advocates champion Ballot Measure 107, with some 50 organizations and growing rapidly, from democratic groups like Honest Elections Oregon and Portland Forward, to civil rights and community groups like Unite Oregon, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon ( APANO), and Oregon Agricultural Workers Union. Honest Elections Oregon is the coalition that led the 2016 and 2018 ballot measures, while Unite Oregon’s website describes it as “a membership organization led by people of color, immigrants and refugees, rural communities, and people experiencing poverty.”
“It really comes down to this: voters have a right to know the true source of campaign finance information and to set reasonable limits on the money spent to influence our votes,” Titus said. “If we are ever going to realize all the promises of this flawed democracy, to make it truly representative and reflective of the American people, then we must separate the power of our democracy from the wealth.”
Titus said the legislature’s approval vote was led by Democratic Sen. Jeff Golden and Republican Sen. Tim Knopp.
The most impressive donation under Oregon’s unlimited contributions was the $2.5 million donated in 2018 by Phil Knight, the billionaire co-founder of Nike, to Republican gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler, who faced Democratic Governor Kate Brown. Brown approved campaign finance limits in March 2019 letter to the Senate Committee on Campaign Finance and contributed in-kind support to the formation of the Yes on 107 coalition since April. According to data from National Institute on Money in Politics.
Lawmakers are allowed to ‘double up’ on receiving per diems from their campaigns and continue to use campaign funds for things like fancy hotel stays, nights out at the sports bar, dry cleaning bills and new Apple gear, the Oregonian reported.
Former Democratic Rep. Betty Komp Recount Last year, the Oregonian said the key dynamic with corporate lobbyists, entwined with state lawmakers, was “what they thought I should say at our leadership meetings on the issue of whether a bill should go ahead”. Oregon comes last among West Coast states in a number of environmental protection measures, according to the series of reports – for example, it is the only one not to require an environmental risk review before approving major construction projects. Oregon lawmakers ranked first in the average amount received from the lumber industry, with $21,416, helping to influence of heavy industry and weak environmental protections around logging and endangered species.
“We’ve seen it for years around property developers, where voters couldn’t even pass reforms to expand housing while having a huge affordable housing crisis. Developers had passed a ban against inclusive zoning,” Titus told Sludge. “It also plays out in everything from health care to police accountability.”
On July 30, the Yes on 107 campaign released the results of a statewide survey of likely voters by Democratic public opinion firm GBAO that found 85% support for the measure. , which remained strong even after hearing negative messages.
Titus said a virtual house party kick-off event for the campaign in July raised $10,000 through small contributions, and the coalition will make public presentations throughout the election season. “Some organizations have been working for years to educate and mobilize the public to amplify voice through collective action, hosting statewide forums, monitoring how it’s done in the legislature, sometimes in the local government.”
In Portland, the 2020 election is the first cycle with a 6-1 matchup for participating candidates among eligible donors, and beginning in January, seven city council candidates had qualified for the program, and mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone. With a design based on New York City succeeded public matching system, the Portland program was taken back by the Portland City Commission in 2016 after it was narrowly repealed by 50.38% of the vote in 2010.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is opting out of the public match, and although the city’s campaign contribution limits are now in effect, a judge ruled in May, he will be allowed to keep major donations of $25,000 from an electricians union and $10,000 each from five other influential donors, including Nike, the Portland Metro Association of Realtors and the CEO of a company of wood, Peter Stott.
If Measure 107 is approved, Titus sees an opportunity for legislative action on greater election spending transparency, such as the disclosure of independent spending. “We are working to build support for the basic principles, entering into negotiations, around reforms that build public trust and lead to more thoughtful representation,” Titus said.
A fix for democracy – Some localities, including Seattle, have implemented a form of campaign finance that distributes vouchers that citizens can donate to eligible candidates, who can then redeem them for public funds. According to a study of vouchers in the 2017 Seattle election by SUNY-Stony Brook Professor Jen Heerwig, the program diversified who funds local elections, doubling overall donor turnout and containing a higher share of people from color versus cash donors. Learn more—>