Secretary of State Shemia Fagan Rejects Campaign Finance Initiatives

The only hope, Jason Kafoury says, is to get more favorable treatment from Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.

Secretary of State Shemia Fagan (center) at an election-day event in November 2020. (Alex Wittwer)

As expected, Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan today disqualified three ballot measures proposed by campaign finance reformers, saying they failed to meet constitutional requirements that they include the full text of any Oregon law they seek to change.

Fagan and Honest Elections Oregon have been dueling over the ballot measures since last week, when a lawyer in Fagan’s office informed Honest Elections co-founder Jason Kafoury that the decision was coming, a phone call first reported by WW.

After the call from Fagan’s chief legal counsel, P.K. Runkles-Pearson, Kafoury said Fagan’s decision was unsupported by both legal precedent and by the practice of previous secretaries of state. Fagan’s ruling would send Honest Elections Oregon back to the drawing board, Kafoury said, and the delay would prevent the measures from making it onto the ballot this year.

Kafoury accused Fagan of thwarting the measure because it would limit contributions by labor unions that contributed millions to her 2020 campaign. That haul helped her bury her opponents despite a late entry into the race. “It smells like selective enforcement to me, and it reeks of political cronyism,” Kafoury said Sunday.

Fagan fired back today—saying the Honest Elections team is falsely maligning her integrity.

“As secretary of state, I am committed to combating misinformation about our elections,” Fagan said in a statement. “There are two pieces of misinformation spreading about these measures that are easily debunked. First, petitioners of the current measures have falsely labeled this decision as biased. That is false. I have applied the constitution’s ‘full text rule’ consistently. Second, petitioners have falsely suggested that under recent secretaries, ballot measures became law without meeting the constitution’s full text rule. My team reviewed each of the laws they cited, and all of them met the full text rule.”

That second point is a response to Kafoury’s claim that previous secretaries of state had allowed three initiatives to proceed without including the full text of the laws they would change. Fagan did not provide details to refute that allegation.

Fagan said she was a “consistent supporter of campaign finance reform” and that she was “disappointed” to reject the petitions from Honest Elections Oregon. “As a senator in 2019, I voted for the constitutional amendment to allow campaign finance limits. I then championed the measure while running for secretary of state.”

That measure, numbered 107, was a precursor to the Honest Elections initiatives. Referred to voters by the Oregon Legislature, it gave lawmakers and local governments the authority to limit political donations and to require disclosure of the names of contributors.

Measure 107 showed that Oregonians are eager to reform campaign finance in Oregon, one of just five states with no limits on political contributions. It passed 78.3% to 21.7%.

Honest Elections Oregon spearheaded campaign limits in the city of Portland and Multnomah County. This year’s elections will apply those limits for the first time. They prohibit contributions of more than $500 per donor in county races and $508 in city races.

Honest Elections Oregon had hoped to extend their winning streak to the whole state this year, but Fagan’s rejection makes that harder now, Kafoury says. Honest Elections must gather 112,020 signatures by July 8 to qualify the measures. Forced to resubmit the language, it becomes much harder for Honest Elections to get the signatures in time because of the lengthy list of preliminary steps required to get a measure on the ballot.

“The secretary of state is wrong on the law,” Kafoury said today. “There is no historical precedent for this.”

The only hope, Kafoury says, is to get more favorable treatment from Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.

Under Oregon law, the attorney general certifies titles for ballot measures. If Rosenblum does so soon, Honest Elections can take both the dispute with Fagan and any challenges to the measures’ language to the Oregon Supreme Court all at once. If they get favorable rulings, the measures could remain on schedule. (Disclosure: Rosenblum is married to Richard Meeker, the co-owner of WW’s parent company.)

Oregon Department of Justice spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson didn’t return a telephone call and email yesterday inquiring about the matter.

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