We Need Campaign Finance Reform in Oregon
Big money weakens our democratic institutions, undermines confidence in government, and excludes the vast majority of citizens from seeking public office. Strong campaign finance laws are critical to protect the integrity of local elections — our elections.
Oregon is one of only 5 states with no limits on political campaign contributions. Candidates and public officials have become unduly beholden to the special interests able to contribute big money. Campaign spending in Oregon has skyrocketed by a factor of 10 (1,000%) since 1996.
The State Integrity Investigation of the Center for Public Integrity in November 2015 graded Oregon an overall "F" in systems to avoid government corruption. Oregon ranked 2nd worst of the 50 states in control of "Political Financing," beating only Mississippi.
Conversely, the Koch Brothers-Funded so-called "Institute for Free Speech" in March 2018 ranked Oregon #1 in America for having the "best" system of campaign finance regulation -- no limits on contributions at all. The Koch Brothers and their billionaire friends really like that.
THE OREGONIAN reported that candidates raise and spend more in their campaigns for the Oregon Legislature, per capita, than for any other state legislature, except New Jersey. The average spent in 2014 by the top 10 Oregon Senate candidates rose to $750,000 each. The average spent in 2016 by the top 10 Oregon House candidates rose to $825,000 each. Some candidates spent over $1 million, over $80 per vote received.
The big money arms race infects local elections. The 2012 winner of Portland's mayorship spent over $1.7 million. His two primary opponents spent $1.4 million and $965,000. The 2016 winner spent $1 million in the primary alone. Most of the money comes from big donors, in chunks as large as $25,000 and even $60,000 per donor. The major corporate donors are typically property developers, construction companies, financial moguls, timber companies, rail contractors, and companies wanting government to pick up more of the $1 billion+ tab for the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup.
Portland should join Seattle by adopting limits on political campaign contributions, which are in place for 90% of local governments in the United States. The limits we propose are the same as those adopted by voters in Seattle in 2015: candidates may not receive contributions larger than $500 per donor.
The Corporate Reform Coalition (75 progressive organizations) in 2012 concluded that only 6 states have worse systems for disclosing independent expenditures. They graded Oregon an "F" in disclosure, while Washington earned an "A." Now, 10 states require that political ads identify their top funders, including California and Washington. For 93 years, Oregon had a law requiring that political ads at least identify their sources, but that law was repealed in 2001 by a Republican-majority Legislature and a Democratic Governor.
When Chevron, Inc. attempted to take over the government of the California city of Richmond (population 110,000) by running its hand-picked candidates for the mayorship and city council positions in 2014 (and spending over $3 million to fund their campaigns), all of Chevron's candidates lost--because of the California law that required its ads and brochures and billboards to say: "Major Funder: Chevron, Inc." All their opponents won, despite being outspent by about 50 to one. Voters need this information to judge the credibility of political ads. Oregon voters are in the dark.