Phil Knight Weighs in on Governor’s Race With $250,000 Check to Betsy Johnson

Knight joins fellow billionaire Tim Boyle in supporting the unaffiliated candidate.

Nike co-founder Phil Knight today made his first statement about the 2022 governor’s race, writing a $250,000 check to former state Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) who is running as an unaffiliated candidate.

Knight, Oregon’s wealthiest citizen, with a net worth Bloomberg estimates at $56 billion, rarely comments on politics. In the past, however, he’s been a strong supporter of both Democratic and Republican candidates for governor.

Knight gave Democrat Neil Goldschmidt $250,000 in 1986, Republican Chris Dudley $350,000 in 2010, Democrat John Kitzhaber $250,000 in 2014, and then-Republican Knute Buehler a whopping $2.5 million in 2018. This year, he’s putting his money behind a candidate who is running for neither party’s nomination—Johnson served in the Legislature for 20 years as a Democrat but is running unaffiliated. That gives her the benefit of skipping a costly and potentially bruising primary but also means she’ll have to convince a large number of Oregonians to abandon their party affiliations to vote for her.

That’s an interesting challenge. In the last midterm elections, in 2018, Republicans and Democrats together equaled 61% of all registered voters. But they voted at a much higher rate (81%) than members of the Independent party (71%) and Oregon’s vast and growing pool of nonaffiliated voters, who outnumber Republicans but vote less (just 48% cast ballots in 2018.)

Johnson will need a lot of money to convince voters to abandon their parties or, in the case of nonaffiliated voters, to send in their ballots.

Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle, who previously gave Johnson $125,000, chipped in another $100,000, according to filings Johnson’s campaign made today.

Johnson has now raised about $4 million since entering the race, far more than any candidate in either of the two major parties.

A recent poll by DHM Research asked voters whether they were troubled by the fact that Johnson is raising the bulk of her money from a relatively small number of Oregon’s wealthiest donors. The answer: no.

Emmet Duffy, Johnson’s campaign coordinator, says voters care less about the source of Johnson’s funding than what she can do for the state.

“We think there are a lot of people who want Oregon to get back its independent spirit and force the two parties to actually get things done,” Duffy says. “Phil Knight seems to share a love of this state and frustration with its current government with the rest of Oregon.”