Runaway campaign spending helps fuel alarming government spending

The state Legislature’s Committee Days event, staged last week, produced plenty of hot topics. At the top of that list is a January special election measure to determine whether we fully implement a health care tax plan passed earlier this year as House Bill 2391.

The measure is designed to close the state’s Medicaid deficit by taxing hospitals and health care plans. The referendum is meant to block both taxes, but the courts have ruled it actually only covers the former.

Proponents of the 1.5 percent tax on premiums are urging a yes vote on Ballot Measure 101. But by its own admission, the intended beneficiary, the Oregon Health Authority, has been caught misspending at least $150 million.

Release of a state auditor’s report on Oregon’s Medicaid system is due out soon. That could provide even more bad optics for those trying to win voter approval of the tax measure Jan. 23.

Fiscal mismanagement by state agencies has become depressingly routine in recent years. The state Department of Energy has been a particularly persistent and egregious violator, and legislators have largely seemed to look the other way.

We blame the runaway gravy train of campaign finance, in large measure.

Unlimited campaign contributions, which fund unlimited campaign spending, falls somewhere between symbol and symptom when it comes to the state’s inability to manage money.

Oregon’s state races are some of the most expensive anywhere. In the last 20 years, the collective cost of legislative campaigns has soared from the $2 million range to $20 million, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. And the institute said 92 percent of 2015 and 2016 races were won by the better-funded candidate.

Last session, Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, proposed Joint Resolution 32. It would limit entities deriving more than half their funding from public sources to $500 in annual contributions to candidates or political action committees.

Greenlick’s proposal targets PACs funded by large Medicaid earners. One example is Amity resident Jim Bunn’s Low Income Dental PAC, funded almost entirely (to the tune of $355,000 in the last two years) by Advantage Dental, a top dental Medicaid earner in the state.

Greenlick’s proposal is something we could support if it were broadened. The definition of funding from public sources should, for example, include public employee unions.

The degree of separation between tax money and union dues is a narrow one. Money flowing from the state just takes a quick U-turn on its way to campaign accounts.

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