Multnomah County Commissioners Drop-Kick Campaign Finance Measure to Court

November ballot measure passed overwhelmingly but conflicts with previous court rulings.

The long, strange trip that is campaign finance reform in Oregon took a new turn last week, when the Multnomah County Commission voted to send a ballot measure voters passed 89 percent to 11 percent last November to Multnomah County Circuit Court to see if it violates the Oregon Constitution.

In an April 6 hearing, assistant county attorney Katherine Thomas explained that "questions have been raised about the constitutionality of this measure." The court "validation proceeding" is supposed to address those questions.

Oregon is one of a handful of states with no limits on campaign contributions. The new measure, now incorporated into the county charter, limits contributions from individuals and political action committees in county races to $500 and requires disclosure of sponsors of political ads.

Dan Meek, a longtime public interest lawyer who helped write the measure, criticized county commissioners for sending it to court rather than simply defending the legality of the limits in the event they are challenged.

"The county attorney is obligated to defend the laws enacted by the voters, and what this is proposing to do is to not defend what the voters have done," Meek testified. "I find that to be extremely alarming."

This morning, the county commission released a statement offering further explanation for its position.

"Campaign contribution limits have been ruled as unconstitutional in the state of Oregon for 20 years. The legal history of this issue is clear, however, advocates for Measure 26-184 hope that the measure can serve as a test case to determine whether the courts will maintain their long standing ruling," the statement said in part.

"The Multnomah County Commissioners present at the April 6, 2017 board meeting said very clearly that they support campaign finance reform, and support an orderly and immediate court review of constitutional issues."

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