How Much Money Can You Give to a Campaign for Oregon Governor?

How much do you have?

I want to give money to Tina Kotek in the governor’s race because Betsy Johnson is a gun-toting narcissist and Christine Drazan is a mean-spirited Trump lapdog. Under state campaign finance laws, how much money can I give to Kotek’s campaign directly? —Very Concerned

Hey, America! Tired of being hassled by The Man for smoking weed, possessing 1.99 grams of hard drugs for personal consumption, or giving suspiciously large sums of unregulated money to your favorite political candidates? Come to oh-so-permissive Oregon, the Las Vegas of everything except gambling, and let it all hang out! (Also, we have gambling.)

How much money can you give to Tina Kotek, or any other candidate for statewide office in Oregon? How much have you got? Oregon is one of just five states—along with Alabama, Nebraska, Utah and Virginia—that places no limit on campaign contributions from any source. (Five others* allow unlimited contributions from individuals, but restrict those from corporations, unions, political action committees, etc.)

Even though you can only donate $2,900 per cycle to a presidential campaign, you could give $7 million if you wanted to to a no-name candidate for the Oregon Legislature. (You could give even more; I just picked $7M because it would buy a strip-o-gram for every voter in a state House district.)

How did solid-blue Oregon wind up to the right of Texas on campaign finance? Our state constitution’s exceptionally broad free speech clause (or at least one interpretation of it) was one factor. In 1997′s Vannatta v. Keisling, 13 years before Citizens United, the Oregon Supreme Court held that massive campaign contributions are a protected form of free expression, like naked pole dancing. It would be unconstitutional, the justices felt, for the state to place restrictions (or pasties) on them, even on really huge ones.

Recently, however, the court has reversed itself, ruling in 2020 that campaign finance limits passed in 2016 by voters in Multnomah County were not necessarily unconstitutional. This could well open the door to limits statewide, so we can finally get the dirty money out of Oregon politics and put it back into Oregon journalism where it belongs.

*For those keeping score at home: Indiana, Iowa, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.