On April 1, Nike co-founder Phil Knight donated $750,000 to Betsy Johnson’s run for Oregon governor as an unaffiliated candidate. Combined with an earlier contribution in February, that brings Knight’s bankrolling of the Johnson campaign to $1 million.
That’s the largest donation of the governor’s race so far, and an indication of Johnson’s appeal to well-heeled donors who are irritated with Democratic Party policies but skeptical of Republicans’ ability to win an office they haven’t held in almost four decades.
The wealthiest man in Oregon, with a net worth of $56 billion, Knight gave $2.5 million to then-Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend) in his unsuccessful 2018 bid to unseat Gov. Kate Brown. This week’s donation suggests he’s willing to spend at the same level on a third-party candidate.
Earlier this year, Johnson made two striking decisions: She gave up the Scappoose legislative seat she’d held for 20 years, and she left the Democratic Party. To run as an independent, Johnson will need a lot of funding. But so far there’s no indication she’ll struggle in that category: She has more than $5.1 million on hand for her run, far more than any other candidate. And unlike other front-runners, such as Tina Kotek or Christine Drazan, she doesn’t need to survive a primary battle or please a party base—she can just collect checks and choose lines of attack.
“Without the money and machinery from the two party system, I need all the help I can get to rescue Oregon,” Johnson tells WW. “Phil Knight deeply loves Oregon and is willing to put his money where his heart is like so many others helping our campaign. I am proud to have him in my corner.”
Knight’s donation was first noted by the Portland Record, an independent journalism effort to track campaign expenditures.