The Republican primary race for Senate District 29 between Maryl Featherstone and Bill Hansell is shaping into a big spender. Featherstone has raised more than $100,000, while Hansell is closing in on the $50,000 mark.
ORESTAR, Oregon’s online database of campaign finances, shows Featherstone, CEO of Graybeal Distributing, a Pendleton-based beverage distributor, has raised $78,635 in cash and $3,521.27 in-kind. Add her $25,000 personal loan to the mix and Featherstone has put together a total of $107,156.27. Oregon Beverage PAC, the political action committee of Oregon wine and beer distributors, is Featherstone’s largest donor with $15,000 in contributions. The Douglas County Physicians and Coalition for a Healthy Oregon PACs are her second-largest supports with $10,000 in contributions.
Umatilla County Commissioner Bill Hansell hasn’t slouched either, reporting $45,382.05 in cash contributions. His total comes to $46,682.05 with a $100 loan and $1,200 in-kind.
Featherstone has spent $41,187.70, with more than $24,000 of that to Pac/West Communications of Wilsonville for campaign flyers and brochures. She also has spent $7,480 at Master Printers Northwest and $1,432 at Creative Signs, both in Pendleton.
Hansell has shelled out $28,021.79, with more than $20,000 for advertising. His top expense has been $7,065.18 to Quinn Thomas Public Affairs, Lake Oswego, for flyers and brochures.
The two are seeking the seat from retiring Sen. David Nelson, R-Pendleton. Nelson in 2008 ran unopposed and raised $78,439.20 — $77,800 of that in cash.
“This is just an expensive process anymore,” Nelson said.
The PACs for Nelson and Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, remain Hansell’s top donors. Each has donated $2,500 to his campaign.
Candidates have to get out their message in advertising and events, Nelson said, and that takes serious dollars. So candidates are likely to take funds from a variety of contributors. But Nelson said that doesn’t mean they are beholden to the donor.
Nelson, a state senator from 1996 until he announced his retirement this year, said he typically let his conscience and constituents be his guide. Lobbyists, he said, were far down on the list.
Oregon is one of only four states with no limits on political contributions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan research group. Oregon voters in 1994 approved a measure to establish campaign contribution and spending limits, but the Supreme Court struck down the measure because it violated the Constitution’s guarantee of free speech.
Voters considered the issues again in 2006, when they defeated Measure 46 to amend the state constitution to allow campaign contribution limits, but approved Measure 47, which detailed the limitations. Without the constitutional changes, though, Measure 47 hasn’t been implemented.
And two House bills in the 2011 Legislature that would have curbed campaign contributions never made it out of committee.
Nelson said he opposes limits on campaign spending because that would curtail freedom of speech. But he is for finance transparency. If a lobbyist wines and dines a politician, Nelson said, those costs should be public information.
And Nelson said he knows how it comes off when those instances aren’t made public. The Oregon Government Ethics Commission fined Nelson in 2007 after he failed to report a trip to Hawaii in 2004 on the dime of beer industry lobbyist Paul Romain.
While the race between Hansell and Featherstone has brought in big bucks, past local campaigns for the state Senate have been spendier. Nelson said when Gordon Smith ran in 1992, he spent about $300,000.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.