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local | Election | Election 2012: Measures

Oregon Ballot Measure Campaigns Have Few Big Spenders

Oregon voters will decide seven citizen initiatives this year. Photo by Kevin Mooney

Oregon voters will decide seven citizen initiatives this year. Photo by Kevin Mooney

Oregon has a spirited history of legislating from the ballot. But this year looks pretty sleepy on the ballot measure front. Oregon voters will decide seven citizen initiatives this year.

But in an unusual twist, the groups behind three of the measures have stopped campaigning. And there’s been relatively little spending by the backers of the four others.

Pat McCormick is a veteran of the initiative process in Oregon. He’s been involved in 20 statewide ballot measures.

But McCormick says he’s never seen a year like this. The campaign McCormick is working on this year found itself without an opponent this fall.

Supporters of a measure to ban gillnets on the Columbia River pulled the plug on their campaign. That group instead put their backing behind an alternate plan proposed by Governor John Kitzhaber.

But McCormick said that development was a relatively modest shock compared to the shutdown of a separate, higher-priced campaign: a pair of measures that would have authorized a suburban Portland casino.

Developers spent more than $5 million on their campaign before promptly ending it in the face of low polling numbers.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a situation like that where after that sizeable of an investment, people just basically laid down their arms and walked away,” McCormick says.

Another measure on the Oregon ballot — one to legalize marijuana — never gained much traction with donors. Altogether, that’s opened the door for backers of the remaining three initiatives.

“That means there’s less things to talk about in terms of real competition, so we’ll get more attention to our issues,” says Kevin Mannix. He’s pushing Measure 84, which would phase out Oregon’s estate tax.

His group’s been running ads like this one:

Voice on ad: “31 states have repealed the death tax. Isn’t it time Oregon do the same?”

And those ads are being countered by the union-funded group Defend Oregon. It, in turn, is backing a measure to repeal Oregon’s unique corporate kicker tax rebate.

Spokesman Scott Moore also says it’s an unusual year. But, “There is no typical ballot measure election season in Oregon. I think every one of them has some fun and unique quirks.”

Defend Oregon is on pace to spend more than $1 million dollars on their ballot measure campaigns. But that pales in comparison to four years ago when the group raised $15 million to defeat seven initiatives.

There is one remaining big money ballot measure campaign in Oregon this year. Real estate agents have spent more than $5 million to try to convince voters to ban any new real estate transfer fees or taxes.

On the Web:

Oregon Campaign spending database

2012 Oregon Voters’ Guide

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