Oregon Lawmakers Again Fail to Limit Campaign Spending

Reformers hoped Phil Knight's multi-million-dollar checks in the 2018 governor's race would bring change. Nope.

Expecting lawmakers to voluntarily cut themselves off from the unlimited campaign contributions Oregon's Constitution allows them might never have been realistic.

The Oregonian reports that the primary reform bill lawmakers worked on this session, House Bill 2714, is dead in the Senate after earlier passing the House.

After Nike co-founder Phil Knight contributed $2.5 million last year to GOP nominee for governor Knute Buehler, Gov. Kate Brown and legislative Democrats pledged to address Oregon's lack of the contribution limits this session. (Oregon is one of just five states that do not limit contributions.)

Earlier in the session, as WW reported, there was some progress.

Related:Campaign Finance Reform Is Inching Through the Oregon Legislature. How Much of the Status Quo Would It Change?

But after HB 2714 passed the House, it met the same fate as other reform efforts in the past couple of decades.

In truth, neither party has much incentive to rein in unfettered spending. Despite Knight's generous checks last year, for instance, Brown, the Democratic incumbent, still out-spent Buehler about $21 million to $19.5 million. In other words, the current system works just fine for the party in power.

Reducing the influence of cash in Oregon races may sound like a good idea, but there's limited support for it in the Capitol from those who benefit from the current system. Republicans don't want to give up the large donors and big corporate checks that fuel their campaigns and Democrats don't want to give up the union contributions that fuel theirs.

Just as importantly, neither of those donor bases is clamoring to give up their ability to buy access to elected officials in this state.

If that's going to happen, the impetus would probably have to come from citizens fed up with the current system. That possibility still exists.

The Oregonian reports that lawmakers are working a referral of Senate Joint Resolution 18, which could allow voters to change the constitution to that contribution limits are at least legal. There's no certainty that referral will happen but if it does, longtime reformer Dan Meek tells The O, "That is a victory for campaign finance reform."