Secretary of State Kate Brown is now reporting spending more than $1 million in her bid for re-election—officially going over the line she promised in September she wouldn't break.
Today's filings show that she's spent $1.08 million, to be exact. Spending on her behalf by a political action committee targeting her Republican opponent, Dr. Knute Buehler, counts as an in-kind contribution to her campaign, and that has put Brown, a Democrat, over her self-imposed limit.
Brown spokeswoman Jillian Schoene acknowledges Brown's total spending is over $1 million, but she says the candidate has no control over in-kind expenditures and never intended for them to count toward her spending cap.
"In-kinds aren't predictable and we don't control those dollars,"
Schoene says. "It is ridiculous to assume that we would try to limit
something that is unpredictable."
But Brown didn't make that distinction explicit when she announced her self-imposed campaign spending limit Sept. 19.
"Oregon’s Secretary of State Kate Brown today announced that she will lead by example and commit to a voluntary $1 million spending limit in her reelection campaign – even though her opponent rejected the opportunity to join her in sending a clear signal that the time has come for Oregon to take action and reform its campaign finance laws," Brown's campaign said in a statement that day.
In July, Brown had asked Buehler to agree to limit spending to $1 million, at a time when Buehler had a large fund-raising advantage over her.
Buehler refused. Brown attempted to capitalize on that refusal, noting that Buehler, who'd been the chief petitioner on a 1994 ballot measure that limited campaign spending, portrayed himself as a strong proponent of campaign finance limits but was a hypocrite.
“The only thing that has changed since Dr. Buehler first expressed support for getting the money out of politics is that he’s now running for office,” Brown said in her Sept. 19 statement. “His double standard raises a legitimate question of whether Oregonians can trust anything he says.”
Buehler says if Brown truly wanted limits, she would have made her proposal well before the May primary.
But Brown's fundraising picked up significantly over the past six weeks. And in October after she established her spending cap, three of her strongest backers formed a political action committee called "Too Extreme For Oregon"
to support Brown and Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, who is also running for re-election, by running ads that attack their opponents. The PAC is largely financed by Service Employees International Union; the Oregon Education Association; and, publisher Win McCormack.
That PAC has raised $350,000
and begun spending it on television ads, which are disclosed as "in-kind" contributions to Brown and Avakian. That term means that the PAC is spending the money directly on ads rather than giving the money to the candidates for them to buy the ads—but the effect is the same.
Schoene says Brown knew nothing about the committee's formation, only learning of it earlier this week when a reporter called to ask about it but has not asked the PAC to discontinue its activities.
On Tuesday, Brown disclosed a $107,500 in-kind contribution from Too Extreme For Oregon, which is effectively why the ORESTAR campaign finance reporting system shows her total expenditures exceeding the $1 million cap—although Schoene says by the way Brown is calculating her spending, she's got a long way to go before she reaches her limit.
The distinction between total spending and spending that Brown controls is absent from the statement Brown issued Sept. 19, however.
The ORESTAR system, which Brown, as the state's top elections officer oversees, breaks
out a line item for in-kind expenditures but such expenditures are a subset of overall spending.
Schoene says her boss wasn't using the ORESTAR definition of spending.
"ORESTAR has nothing to do with our self-imposed spending cap," she says. "If you had asked us that back in September, we would have told you."
And despite the ORESTAR total today, Schoene says Brown will not spend more than $1 million of the money that she controls.
"She remains committed to that," Schoene says.
Using the campaign's definition of spending, Brown has spent $843,000 since announcing her re-election campaign Feb. 10. She has $115,000 on hand.
Ballots will be counted Nov. 6.