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October 20th, 2010 | Politics
 

The Money Race

The 500-pound gorilla and other mega-donors in the governor’s race.

     
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Here’s one prediction in the too-close-to-call race for governor: Republican Chris Dudley and Democrat John Kitzhaber will together eclipse the $14.4 million fundraising record total set in the 2006 gubernatorial race.

As of Oct. 18, two weeks before the Nov. 2 election, state filings show Dudley has raised $8.25 million since entering the race; Kitzhaber raised $4.9 million. That tops $13 million, or about $6.50 per registered voter in Oregon—and it doesn’t include a key expenditure, on Kitzhaber’s behalf.

The GOP cash advantage echoes the 2006 race, when Republican Ron Saxton out-raised Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat, $8.8 million to $5.6 million.

But Janice Thompson, who monitors campaign finance for Common Cause Oregon, notes some significant differences from the 2006 cycle: Key individual donors have either died or changed sides; Dudley has lassoed new donors; and the Democrats’ 500-pound gorilla, Oregon public employee unions—and particularly the 47,000-member Oregon Education Association—are spending their money in a more low-profile fashion: so-called “independent expenditures.”

“It’s fair to say independent expenditures are uncommon in Oregon because there are no limits here and so donors aren’t driven to that tool,” Thompson says.

Here are highlights from both candidates’ filings:

Phil is fickle: In 2006, Nike Chairman Phil Knight gave $100,000 to Kulongoski, extending his tradition of supporting Democratic candidates that included previous large contributions to then-Govs. Neil Goldschmidt and Kitzhaber. This year, Knight, who in a January Oregonian op-ed wrote Oregon is “slowly killing itself” with taxes, has given $200,000 to Dudley, who’s made tax cuts central to his campaign. “That’s a big swing,” Thompson says.

Medicos back the doctor: Groups dependent on the Oregon Health Plan, which provides services to low-income Oregonians, are as great a source of direct support for Kitzhaber as public employee unions so far. He has collected $125,000 apiece from Coalition for a Healthy Oregon, an OHP contractor, and Doctors for Healthy Communities, a physician group. The Oregon Nurses Association has kicked in another $100,000. Kitzhaber has pulled in at least $500,000 from medical groups. COHO founder Jeff Heatherington says his group has no expectation there will be better reimbursements if Kitzhaber wins. “We know there’s no money,” Heatherington says. “But we know where Kitzhaber stands on health care, and we don’t know where Dudley stands.” Dudley spokesman Jake Suski says rumors that Dudley plans to gut OHP are false. “He has not said anything like that,” says Suski.

Timber might be divided, but its money’s on Dudley: Last month, Oregon Forest Industries Council director Ray Wilkeson told WW that his members, who collectively control about 5 million acres of Oregon woodlands, are pretty evenly divided on the race. That’s surprising, as the industry historically supports Republicans. But Kitzhaber, who represented timber-friendly Douglas County in Salem for 14 years, earned allies with his 1997 Salmon Plan, which avoided further reduced timber harvests. Timber interests have given Dudley more than $400,000.

Dudley’s a very strong fundraiser: Unlike other wealthy Oregon GOP candidates, such as Allen Alley ($350,000), who lost to Dudley in the party primary, and U.S. Senate candidate Jim Huffman ($975,000), Dudley has not self-financed his race, although he earned more than $30 million over 16 seasons in the NBA. Nor has he taken money from traditional GOP moneybags such as the Wendt family (who gave $250,000 to Saxton in 2006 but whose patriarch, Dick Wendt, died in August), hotelier Mark Hemstreet or medical tycoon Loren Parks. In fact, Dudley has received far more large donations than Kitzhaber—313 checks of $5,000 or more compared to 198 such checks for Kitzhaber—and gotten far more donations, period: more than 12,000, says Suski, compared with 8,600 for Kitzhaber.

Public employee unions are below the radar: Common Cause’s Thompson notes that OEA and SEIU gave more to Kulongoski in 2006 than they have given Kitzhaber directly so far, even though Kulongoski infuriated those public employee unions when he slashed retirement benefits in 2003. If you add up OEA and SEIU’s direct and in-kind contributions so far, they have given Kitzhaber about $300,000, compared with the $500,000 they gave Kulongoski in 2006. But another OEA-funded political action committee, Quality Education for Oregon, has spent $750,000 independently on Kitzhaber. That expenditure is disclosed in state filings but does not show up on Kitzhaber’s reports because candidates are not required to report money they don’t control.

OEA spokeswoman Becca Uherbelau explains OEA has two pots of money: voluntary donations from which the union has given Kitzhaber $175,000 and another pot (the $750,000) that comes from assessments and is used to promote public education.

“There’s no attempt to disguise our activity,” Uherbelau says.


MORE: To read a summary of our election endorsements, click here.
 
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