Television viewers are seeing new attack ads in the race for Oregon governor – but it’s far from clear to the casual watcher who is paying for them.
A union-funded group called Defend Oregon’s Values has launched a new TV ad criticizing Republican nominee Knute Buehler, a state legislator from Bend, for his record on health care. It turns out that the group is coordinating with the campaign of Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat.
Meanwhile, the business-oriented group Priority Oregon has two new ads criticizing Brown for not reducing the rapidly rising costs of Oregon's public pension system.
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Priority Oregon doesn’t provide any information about its donors, which it can do as a nonprofit engaged in issue advocacy. One possible clue to its funding emerged Tuesday when the Republican Governors Association reported in an IRS filing that it had exchanged $30,000 worth of research work with Priority Oregon. However, Priority Oregon’s executive director, Erica Hetfeld, insisted that her group hasn’t worked with the GOP association.
Oregon doesn’t place any limits on how much candidates can raise from donors, regardless of whether they are individuals, corporations or unions. But it can look better for a candidate not to be directly connected to making harsh political attacks.
Defend Oregon’s Values was set up by Service Employees Union, Local 49, according to Felisa Hagins, the group’s political director.
"It’s a committee we put together to talk about Knute Buehler’s record,” Hagins said. “We feel like it’s really important to know who he is.”
The committee’s online filing with the state Elections Division says the group is a “candidate-controlled committee” working on behalf of Brown. Hagins said that her group is actually working “in coordination” with the governor’s campaign.
Christian Gaston, Brown’s campaign spokesman, said the group wasn’t formed with the idea of being an attack dog that could maintain a certain distance from Brown.
“It’s just that this group is focused on setting the record straight,” said Gaston, noting that Defend Oregon’s Values will reveal all of its contributors.
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In contrast, Priority Oregon is keeping its donors secret, which it can do as a nonprofit involved in issue advocacy.
Erica Hetfeld, the executive director of Priority Oregon, said that her group is running “ads addressing an issue” and that they don’t explicitly advocate for her defeat. She said Priority Oregon is working separately from the Buehler campaign, and she said she didn’t know anything about the filing from the Republican Governors Association.
Hetfeld said she found the ad from Defend Oregon’s Values strange given Brown’s stated support for more openness in government.
“I just think it’s unusual that the transparency governor is running ads under another name,” she said.
During the primary season, despite having several candidates for the Republican nomination, Buehler ran his own advertising criticizing Brown on a variety of issues. The ads also typically included praise for Buehler.