Phil Knight Invests in Oregon’s Hotly Contested 2nd Congressional District GOP Primary

The Nike co-founder has been a big supporter in the past of Dr. Knute Buehler, who is seeking to succeed Greg Walden.

Phil Knight, circa 1980 (WW archive)

A new political action committee called Republican Leadership for Oregon has sprung up in Oregon's 2nd Congressional District, where a large group of candidates are competing to succeed U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) in the state's only reliably Republican congressional district.

A filing with the Federal Elections Commission shows the committee was formed in February and will make independent expenditures.

Unlike in races governed by Oregon law, which place no limits on campaign contributions, federal races limit individuals' contributions to $2,800 in each cycle, i.e., $2,800 for the primary and $2,800 for the general election. Independent expenditure committees allow donors seeking to influence federal races to make unlimited contributions, but such committees may not coordinate their activities with candidates they support.

The new committee only recently began raising money, but its early donors are eye-catching: Nike co-founder Phil Knight gave $100,000; James Young, a co-founder of Entek International, a Lebanon, Ore. manufacturer, gave $50,000; and Hayden Homes LLC, a Redmond, Ore., development company, gave $25,000.

All of the contributors are past supporters of former state Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend), who is one of the candidates seeking Walden's seat. The other leading candidates in the GOP primary are former state Sens. Jason Atkinson (R-Central Point) and Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario), and Jimmy Crumpacker, a newcomer to the district who yesterday got the coveted endorsement of Oregon Right to Life.

Young and Hayden Homes both each gave Buehler $100,000 for the 2018 governor's race, which he lost to the incumbent, Kate Brown.

Knight, the state's wealthiest man, went all-in for Buehler in that race, giving the Bend orthopedic surgeon $2.5 million directly and another million to the Republican Governors Association. Knight's contributions are by far the largest contributions from one person to a candidate in Oregon history.

Buehler's campaign spokesman, Rob Yosaitis, says the new committee has no connection to Buehler. "That is an independent group," Yosaitis says.

A spokesperson for Knight did not respond to a request for comment.

On April 15, the candidates filed their fundraising totals for the first quarter of 2020. Buehler, who trailed Crumpacker in the fourth quarter of 2019, brought in the most, $653,000, pushing his campaign just over the million-dollar mark. Crumpacker, who raised $594,000 in 2019, including a $200,000 loan from himself, raised $240,000 in the first three months of this year, giving him $877,000 for the campaign so far. Bentz equaled his earlier quarter, raising $198,000 to give him $396,000 for the campaign so far, and Atkinson saw his numbers drop slightly, raising $82,000 in the quarter to give him a total of $178,000.

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