By editorial board • 

One thing left utterly undone: campaign finance reform

This year’s 160-day Oregon legislative session featured a 42-day walkout by conservative senators, all Republican except our own Brian Boquist, a longtime Republican now claiming independent allegiance.

But because the dissidents limited their protest to denying the Senate a quorum for floor sessions, legislation continued to move through the pipeline. So when they returned to full-fledged duty June 14, fast-tracking the final frantic days allowed the Legislature to flush through a relatively normal 600 bills.

The roster included the two bellwether bills triggering the walkout in the first place, SB 2002, expanding abortion rights, and SB 2005, limiting gun rights, albeit with concessions from the majority Democrats on particularly inflammatory points. It also included all but one major element in Gov. Tina Kotek’s headliner homelessness package.

So, mission accomplished? No, not in our book. Not by a long shot.

While Kotek most misses easing UGB rules to make housing more affordable, we most miss tightening political funding rules to make campaigning more affordable.

Despite the best efforts of corporate titans like Nike’s Phil Knight, who dumped more than $7 million into Republican coffers in the 2022 mid-terms, union largesse, particularly public employee union largesse, continues to give the state’s majority Democrats a decided edge. While they adamantly assert otherwise, we see that largely driving their extended inaction.

It’s gotten to the point where they seem even more loath to join 45 sister states in enacting meaningful campaign finance reform than they do to touch the third rail of Democratic politics by enacting meaningful PERS pension reform. And that’s saying something.

This year, the walkout gave them a convenient excuse. But they didn’t really need one, as the Watergate-fueled issue has been languishing in Salem for five decades now.

What would it take to spur action? Maybe a Bahama bitcoin czar dumping $11 million into a single House primary, just before his empire imploded in spectacular fashion?

Well, yes — except for the fact the beneficiary was running under the Democratic Party banner and the benefactor was also showering money on the party itself.

Oregon is not only one of just five states failing to limit corporate contributions. It is also the only state of our 50 failing to limit individual contributions — contributions like those of the shoe peddler and bitcoin conniver.

The upshot? Oregon leads the nation in corporate political contributions and is making a run for the top in individual political contributions.

A few years back, an OSPIRG study had donations of $100 or less running $6.5 million and donations of $5,000 or more running $64 million. Worse, more than two-thirds of the high-roller donations were from out of state.

While our legislators have been standing idly by, voters have been trying their best to fill the gap.

They approved Measure 6 in 1994, only to see in struck down in state and federal court, and Measure 47 in 2006, only to see it struck down by the Oregon Supreme Court. The latter ruling was unanimously reversed in subsequent action, but relying on an internal opinion she declined to make public, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said that did not provide sufficient grounds to reinstate the measure.

Limiting the insidious monetizing Oregon political campaigns demands three things: 1) reasonable contribution limits capable of passing constitutional measure; 2) reporting requirements ensuring greater timeliness and clarity in source identification; and 3) enforcement provisions holding rulebreakers accountable in meaningful terms.

We don’t think that’s too much to ask some 50-years post-Watergate. And you can bet Oregon Republicans wouldn’t walk out if Oregon Democrats suffered sufficient pangs of conscience to finally take action.


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