Oregon Attorney General Greenlights Campaign Money Measures in Win for Petitioners

Her decision means Honest Elections can take several disputes to the Oregon Supreme Court all at once—and perhaps get its measures on the November ballot.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. (Justin Katigbak)

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum last night certified the language for three ballot measures that aim to cap campaign contributions. Her move keeps the reform effort alive after Secretary of State Shemia Fagan rejected the proposed measures yesterday because they didn’t include the entire text of Oregon laws they would change.

“This is great news,” says Jason Kafoury, co-founder of Honest Elections Oregon, the group pushing to get the initiatives on the ballot this year. “This is a good day for democracy.”

In Oregon, the attorney general must vet initiative language before sponsors can gather signatures to get on the ballot. Rosenblum’s decision doesn’t override Fagan’s decision, but it means Honest Elections can take both the dispute with Fagan and any other challenges to the measures’ language to the Oregon Supreme Court all at once.

With favorable rulings, the measures could remain on schedule, Kafoury says.

Honest Elections plans to file a brief tomorrow asking the Oregon Supreme Court to hear its dispute immediately, bypassing lower courts and arguing that the issue is time sensitive. Honest Elections has until July 8 to gather 112,020 signatures, a task that becomes much more difficult if the group has to start the initiative process over with new ballot language.

(Disclosure: Rosenblum is married to Richard Meeker, the co-owner of WW’s parent company.)

The dispute between Fagan and Honest Elections mirrors a previous one that the secretary of state had with New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. In January, Fagan ruled that Kristof did not meet the three-year residency requirement that the Oregon Constitution lays out for candidates for governor. Kristof appealed the matter to the Oregon Supreme Court, which agreed to hear Kristof’s case on the same expedited basis that Honest Elections is seeking.

Fagan spokesman Ben Morris didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment.

The dispute has become heated since it began last week, when Fagan’s in-house attorney, P.K. Runkles-Pearson, gave Kafoury a “courtesy call” to tell him that Fagan planned to reject the language of his measures and invited him to withdraw and submit new ones.

Kafoury declined to do so and in comments to WW alleged that Fagan had rejected the initiatives because they would curb the amount of money that labor unions could give to candidates. Fagan won her 2020 race for secretary of state with a war chest of more than $3 million, much of which came from unions.

It was one of Fagan’s campaign donors, United Food & Commercial Workers Local 555, that raised the objection to Honest Elections’ measures in public comments on them. Fagan’s office said the union’s comments had nothing to do with her decision.

Fagan fired back yesterday, saying that Kafoury had “falsely labeled this decision as biased.” She also disputed Honest Elections’ assertion that previous secretaries of state had approved ballot measures that did not contain the full text of Oregon statutes they would change.

“Petitioners have falsely suggested that under recent secretaries, ballot measures became law without meeting the constitution’s full-text rule,” Fagan said in a statement. “My team reviewed each of the laws they cited, and all of them met the full text rule.”

Honest Elections says it can prove otherwise.

One initiative that was approved without reproducing full text of Oregon law was Measure 109, which legalized some uses of psychedelic mushrooms, Honest Elections says. It was approved by former Secretary of State Bev Clarno in 2019 and passed by voters in 2020.

The initiative says: “Notwithstanding ORS 30.935, 215.253 (1) or 633.738, the governing body of a city or county may adopt ordinances that impose reasonable regulations on the operation of businesses located at premises for which a license has been issued….” But the initiative does not include the full text of ORS 30.935, 215.253 or 633.738.

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