When former New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof announced he was running for Oregon governor, he did it while sporting a Columbia Sportswear jacket.
To some, it was a sign that he was hoping to court the state’s business community in a way that the Democrats who have controlled the state for decades have not always done.
But it was state Sen. Betsy Johnson who spoke at Columbia Sportswear CEO Gert Boyle’s funeral.
And it was Johnson who received a $100,000 check from the sportswear company’s current CEO last month.
Johnson, a longtime Democratic legislator running as an unaffiliated candidate, has raised more than $2 million in her bid to become the next governor of Oregon, according to new campaign finance reports.
Her donation list reads like a who’s who of Oregon’s wealthy families; $250,000 from the Pape Group, $125,000 from Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle (that $100,000 donation and a $25,000 in-kind donation) and money from the shipping company Sause Bros.
When Jordan Schnitzer, the philanthropist and real estate developer, wanted to turn Wapato Jail into a homeless shelter, Johnson helped secure the money to make it a reality. His real estate company gave her campaign $100,000 earlier this month.
Over the years, Johnson has cultivated strong relationships throughout the state. She has lived in Scappoose and represented the North Coast in the Legislature since 2001. More recently, Johnson served in the powerful position as one of the Legislature’s lead budget writers.
All of this has translated into a huge early financial advantage for Johnson, especially since, unlike the other candidates, she won’t have to spend a lot of money in the primaries. Some believe her strong early fundraising could also help shape the race; such a large figure so soon after announcing her candidacy could discourage viable Republican contenders - such as House Republican Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, - from entering the race.
“Democrats shouldn’t take for granted the Democratic control they have had for 30 years,” said Rebecca Tweed, a Republican campaign strategist, who is not currently working with any gubernatorial candidate. “And Republicans need to recognize they need to create a more credible base for a credible candidate to ever be competitive which they haven’t done yet this cycle.”
The pathway to victory for a third-party candidate is not considered easy. Only once in the state’s history has Oregon elected an independent governor. It was in the height of the depression and Julius Meier, a man with significant name recognition, being of the Meier and Frank family, took office in 1931.
Johnson has to collect about 23,750 valid signatures, equal to 1% of the statewide vote in the 2020 general election in order to appear on the November 2022 ballot.
But even Johnson’s smaller donors are a nod to both the relationships she has built with well-known Oregonians and the bipartisan nature of them; Antoinette Hatfield, U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield’s wife donated, Mike Bonetto, a Democrat who worked for former Gov. John Kitzhaber gave to her campaign, and so did Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Eugene, a longtime state Senator.
Kristof, who is running as a Democrat, has also raised a large sum: more than $1 million in less than a month. But some of his more noteworthy donations are from out-of-state contributors, including a $50,000 contribution from philanthropist Melinda French Gates and $10,000 from the Angelina Jolie Family Trust. Kristof also received a $5,000 vote of support from former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges for Kristof is proving he meets the state’s three-year residency requirements to run for governor. Kristof voted in New York in November 2020. He registered to vote in Oregon, in Yamhill County, on Dec. 28, 2020. Once Kristof formally files to run, the Secretary of State’s Office will confirm whether he meets the constitutional requirement to run.
House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, considered a Democratic fundraiser trails both Johnson and Kristof in fundraising. She reports raising about $450,000. But that could change quickly, as she is widely considered the favorite amongst some of Oregon’s public employee unions.
What is clear: this governor’s race should shatter the previously most expensive campaign. That was the more than $37 million raised between Gov. Kate Brown and Republican Knute Buehler in 2018.
The other big question on people’s minds is whether Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who gave more than $2 million to Buehler, will funnel money into the race.
As one political insider put it, “In general, you wait for Phil Knight to come to you.”