By editorial board • 

Third time’s the charm when it comes to campaign limits

Oregon is one of only five states placing no limits on corporate contributions to political candidates and causes. It is one of only 11 with no limits on individual contributions, allowing Nike founder Phil Knight to pump an eye-popping $2.5 million into Knute Buehler’s 2018 gubernatorial run.

As a result, Oregon ranks first in the nation in corporate political contributions per capita, and not far behind in individual contributions per capita. When it comes to campaign finance, our state serves as the Wild West counterpart of  the Deep South’s Alabama and Mississippi.

It gets worse. Consider these findings from “Oregon’s Multi-Million-Dollar Democracy,” an OSPIRG study based on the 2014 general election:

Donations of $100 or less were $6.5 million, donations of $5,000 or more $64 million, or almost 10 times as much. What’s more, $45 million of the high-roller donations were from out of state.

Don’t blame Oregon voters. They’ve repeatedly tried to set things straight, and may finally have done the trick with their 78% approval of Measure 107 in this year’s general election.

However, Measure 107 doesn’t actually place new limits on campaign contributions. It merely creates a constititonal umbrella under which cities, counties and the state itself are authorized to enact such limits.

It’s up to our city councils, county commissions and state Legislature to heed the voters. And it’s up to us to see that they do, reversing a long legacy of futility.

Voters approved Measure 6 in 1994, but it was struck down by the Oregon Supreme Court and U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. They approved Measure 47 in 2006, but the Oregon Supreme Court ruled it could not be followed because they failed to pass a companion measure designed to give it constitutional standing.

Ironically, voters had a chance to try again this year courtesy of the same court. In the course of upholding a Portland campaign finance measure, the court unanimously reversed its adverse findings on the constitutionality of 2006’s Measure 47.

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum could have spared us the need for another go at the ballot box by ruling what had the effect of reinstating 47. However, after conferring with Secretary of State Bev Clarno, and reviewing an internal legal opinion she refused to make public, she concluded it did not.

The need for action seems clear.

Earlier this year, Gov. Kate Brown, who has more than a passing interest in the political redistricting, agency auditing and election management functions of the Secretary of State’s Office, bestowed $50,000 on Democratic candidate Shemia Fagan. That’s a pittance compared to the $3.2 million helping propel Fagan to victory, but certainly large enough to raise questions.

Fagan wasn’t alone in raising a lot of money, either.

Oregon House candidate raked in $13 million, Oregon Senate candidates $6.5 million. Another $17.5 million poured into ballot measure coffers in a year with only four measures up.

Hotly contested races in House District 32, Senate District 5 and Senate District 10 each drew more than $2 million in contributions by themselves. That’s pretty impressive for a job that pays just $31,200 a year.

Financial contributions may, as state and federal courts have ruled, represent one way of expressing free speech. However, every freedom granted in our state and federal constitutions comes up against limits. But other states have found a way, and the stage is set for us to follow suit, provided we can muster the will.


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