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Bladine: Campaign database’ follows the money’

In an election year, Oregon’s most interesting database is the Secretary of State’s compilation of campaign finance activity for all candidates and ballot measures.

That interest was most clearly articulated in the 1976 film “All The President’s Men,” when informant “Deep Throat” advised reporter Bob Woodward, “Follow the money.”

That wasn’t the first time someone recognized that special interests produce financial gifts, often with strings attached. One source traces that sentiment back 2,330 years to Roman politician Lucius Cassius Longinus Ravilla, known often to ask, “Cui bono?” — “to whom is it a benefit?”

Political analysts seeking to answer that question find much evidence in Oregon’s vast campaign finance database. It’s not perfect, with delayed reporting and sometimes cloaked contributions, but the dates and names and numbers can paint political pictures that otherwise would be far less clear to Oregon voters.

Oregon’s 2022 gubernatorial contest has now attracted high national interest and may become the state’s most expensive candidate campaign in history. Here are a few pieces of information about that race taken from the campaign finance database.

Former Democrat Betsy Johnson, who last year converted to “unaffiliated,” jumped off to an early fund-raising lead in 2021 by collecting more than $2.5 million in contributions of $10,000 or more. In that pre-election year, Democrat Tina Kotek drew $415,000 and Republican Christine Drazan $280,000 in contributions of $10,000 or above.

The money-flow pace changed dramatically in 2022, but Johnson still dominated Oregon-based funding for most of the year. Her big news was $3.75 million in contributions from billionaire Phil Knight, but this year Johnson also garnered other gifts of $500,000, two of $300,000, three of $250,000, two of $200,000 and 14 of $100,000.

Kotek, as expected, drew major financial support in 2022 from a broad array of unions and other standard-bearers of Democratic politics. Her major financial breakthrough, however, came in the form of about $6 million from the national Democratic Governors Association.

Drazan, after mid-year realization that she had a good chance to become Oregon’s first Republican governor elected in 40 years, has received $4.7 million from the national Republican Governors Association. And early this month, while closely watching the political winds, Phil Knight invested $1 million into the Drazan campaign.

Knight also contributed $2 million to the Bring Balance to Salem PAC, which supports Republican candidates and other similar-thinking PACs.
After following all that money, and watching all those debates and ads, the latest poll shows Drazen 39.6%, Kotek 37.6%, and Johnson 14%. A lot more money will flow before the final poll on Nov. 8.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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