Oregon Legislature Kicks Off Work To Curb Campaign Spending

By Lauren Dake (OPB)
Salem, Ore. Jan. 23, 2019 10:52 p.m.

Gov. Kate Brown, who was part of the state's most expensive governor's race ever last year, told lawmakers on Wednesday that it’s time to curb the amount of political money spent in Oregon.

A newly-created campaign finance committee in the state Senate is tasked with reining in Oregon’s campaign finance laws, an area that is akin — as the governor likes to say —  to the “wild, Wild West.”

Oregon Governor Kate Brown next to a US flag.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown speaks to reporters in her ceremonial office at the Capitol in Salem, Ore., Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

“I want to see change that makes elections more competitive and that reduces barriers to participating for candidates and frankly for donors as well,” Brown told members of the Senate Committee on Campaign Finance.

The governor said she raised three times more than her three Democratic predecessors in her last race. And she urged lawmakers to increase transparency when it comes to reporting contributions and expenditures.

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Campaign spending and donations should be posted quickly for the public to see, she said. Currently there is often a 30-day window before transactions become public.

The governor also said it’s time for Oregon to tackle what's known as “dark money," essentially donations made to nonprofits that do political work but aren't limited in how much they can collect and aren't required to disclose their supporters.

“As long as dollars flow unfettered in Oregon, the very least we can do is ensure that everyone can follow the money in politics,” Brown said.


Brown, who benefited tremendously from union support in the last election cycle, also told lawmakers that it's time to limit how much candidates can accept.

Oregon is only one of a handful of states that doesn’t have any cap on how much money can be given to candidates.

Brown, who can’t run for re-election after this four-year term ends, has in the past pushed for a $2,600 limit for individual donors and $5,000 for political action committees.

Voters would need to amend the state’s constitution to move forward with changing the campaign contribution rules. Oregon voters have been reticent to amend the free-speech clause of the constitution.

The governor, a lawyer, said previously she thinks there is a route to amend the provision in the constitution dealing with elections.

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“Quite simply, the fact that in Oregon, we cannot even discuss what limits can or should look like because of the way our constitution has been interpreted is both mind-boggling and frankly deeply disappointing to me,” Brown said.

The governor said she would like to see something on the ballot in the 2020 election.

Independent Party Candidate Patrick Starnes also attended the hearing.  In a surprise move toward the end of the 2018 governor’s race, Starnes dropped out and endorsed Brown. He said he was convinced Brown was the candidate most willing to address campaign finance reform and that his decision was influenced by Republican candidate Knute Buehler’s decision to accept $2.5 million from Nike co-founder Phil Knight.

Sen. Tim Knopp, a Republican from Bend, and a member of the campaign finance committee, said the state is quickly moving toward being a constitutional republic where very few people dictate who gets elected.

“I think that should be disturbing for every American, every Oregonian,” he said.