Loren Parks won't deny that he is the biggest political contributor in the history of Oregon politics. But the way he sees it, he may also be the most misunderstood man in the state.
To liberal activists, Parks is an ultra-conservative wealthy weirdo or, as the union-financed group Our Oregon called him earlier this week, a "sexual hypnotist."
To Republicans who are opposed to the gubernatorial campaign of Kevin Mannix, the biggest beneficiary of his largesse, Parks is a daffy old man who is easily manipulated by Mannix's glibness.
But a closer look at the most mysterious man in Oregon politics suggests that both sides are wrong. The real story of Loren Parks is far more nuanced. It's also a whole lot more interesting.
First things first.
If money is speech, as the Supreme Court claims, then Loren E. Parks has the biggest bullhorn in the history of the state of Oregon.
And he doesn't even live here anymore. In 2002, he moved to Henderson, Nev.
Over the past decade, according to an analysis of state and federal records, Parks, 79, has dumped—in direct political contributions—nearly $6 million into Oregon politics, far more than any other individual and more than almost any other organized lobby. His foundations have given another $1.75 million to politically conservative advocacy groups in Oregon and in Washington, D.C.
No one has received more cash than Mannix, the Salem lawyer, former legislator and three-time statewide candidate who is now running, again, to be the Republican nominee for governor.
According to the most recent filing with the secretary of state's office, Parks has directly contributed $381,000 to Mannix for the forthcoming primary election—so far. But this is only a fraction of the money Parks has sent Mannix's way over the past decade.
Of the total of $10.1 million in direct political contributions received since 1990 by Mannix's two main political committees, Citizens for Mannix and Justice for All, slightly over 14.1 percent, or $1.4 million, came from just one person, Loren Parks.
The cash to Mannix doesn't stop there. Mannix has also received an additional $707,000 from two of Parks' three tax-exempt foundations over the past decade, according to tax returns filed by the Parks foundations with the Internal Revenue Service. That makes Mannix Parks' two-million-dollar man.
Even the private school where Mannix sent his children, the Blanchet Catholic School in Salem, where Mannix was on the board as a parent representative, has received $122,500 from one of Parks' foundations, according to the foundation's tax returns.
Asked to explain why Parks has been such a heavy backer of Mannix, the candidate's campaign staff could only come up with this:
"Mr. Parks thinks Kevin is one of the few leaders who keeps his word and gets things done."
In a series of email conversations with WW, Parks explained his support for Mannix a bit more concretely: "Violent crime in Oregon is down 35 percent due to work by Kevin, [conservative media consultant] Gregg Clapper and me," Parks wrote. "I am not in agreement with Kevin on everything, but far more with him than anyone else. I have been the victim of corrupt judges and lawyers. I hope Kevin can change some of that."
Parks has been sued a number of times over the past 20 years, including once by Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers. With the exception of a few minor commercial litigation cases, he has lost every time he went to court.
So who is Loren Parks?
Parks grew up in Wichita, Kan., in the 1930s, a culture light-years away from Oregon in the early 21st century.
"I am a depression child, born in 1926," Parks wrote WW by email. "I know what it's like to be poor...and how much effort it takes to rise above poverty.... I served in the military 1944-1946, Aviation electronics technician's mate [U.S. Navy]. Was in Shore Patrol [in my] last year. Saw the seedy side of life.
"I started my business from abject poverty in Aloha. I have six years' college from five universities, B.A. psych, minor in French. I speak French and Spanish rather well and can get along in Italian, Dutch and German, and Japanese."
Parks owns several businesses, but his primary source of income appears to come from Parks Medical Electronics, which was founded in 1961. Among the 30-odd products sold by the company are varieties of Doppler flow meters used to assess blood-flow velocity—a handy thing to have around if you want to judge a patient's risk for a stroke. Other Parks devices include, more notoriously, an instrument called a plethysmograph, which can measure blood engorgement in sexual organs and is used to treat sexual dysfunction in both men and women, as well as measure arousal responses in sex offenders.
Last year, Parks Medical Electronics had gross revenues of $8 million. The net profit accrued to Parks, as the debt-free company's sole stockholder.
There are a number of wealthier men and women in Oregon, people who control businesses with much larger revenues. By that measure, Parks' political contributions, as a percentage of his net worth, are even more extraordinary.
Yet far less attention is paid to his charitable contributions, which are made by him personally or through his three tax-exempt private foundations: the Psychological Research Foundation, the Parks Foundation, and the Parks Education Foundation.
Over the previous decade, Parks and his foundations have given generously to a variety of healthcare organizations. Over the past decade, according to Parks' foundations' tax returns, his nonprofits have donated $250,000 to the Providence St. Vincent Medical Foundation in Portland, nearly $375,000 to needy cancer patients for treatment, about $220,000 to the Center for the Study of Natural Oncology in Solana Beach, Calif., and at least $70,000 to Compassion in Dying, a group that supports assisted suicide.
Parks also has an environmental side. Over the years, his foundations have given at least $244,000 to Tillamook Anglers for improvement of fish habitat. He spent more than $350,000 on a fish hatchery for a prison camp on the Wilson River many years ago. And he has bought land in Tillamook County and converted it into public boat launches, including Loren's Drift, a well-known angling area on the Trask River.
"Personally, he's a frugal guy who will complain about the cost of a hamburger," says Jerry Dove, a longtime fishing buddy of Parks' who served two terms as a Tillamook County commissioner. "But to those issues he believes in—and fisheries is one of them—he is as charitable a guy as I know."
Last year, Parks donated $500,000 to the Red Cross for relief of victims of Hurricane Katrina.
"I can't be all bad," wrote Parks. "Find any newspaper, union or lawyer who gave any significant amount at all."
Despite such good works, far more attention has been paid lately to Parks' political contributions.
Parks first became involved in politics in a significant way in the early 1990s, after one of the co-founders of the modern conservative movement in Oregon, Don McIntire, succeeded in winning passage of a tax-limitation initiative, Measure 5. Until then, McIntire had never heard of Parks. Parks telephoned McIntire and asked how he could help in the future.
"Well, what can you do?" McIntire says he asked.
"I can give money," Parks said, according to McIntire. Great, McIntire thought, every little bit helps.
A day or so later, a fellow conservative activist, Frank Eisenzimmer, met with Parks. He called McIntire and told him Parks had written a very large check toward a term-limits initiative. McIntire was stunned by the size of the contribution, which he recalled was as much as $25,000, though he can no longer recall the exact amount. He only knew it was a lot.
Later, Parks, the late developer Robert Randall, Eisenzimmer and McIntire, among others, met in Clackamas to work out plans to finance a number of conservative candidates and causes in the 1990s, according to conservative activist Ruth Bendl, who once worked for Parks in a petition-gathering company, Canvasser Services Inc. Among those the group chose to underwrite were Oregon Taxpayers United and its executive director Bill Sizemore, the Clackamas County tax opponent who has been active in placing initiative measures on the Oregon ballot over the last decade, and who was the Republican nominee for governor in 1998. "Loren was one of two primary donors—Robert Randall was the other—who helped us launch Oregon Taxpayers United back in 1993," Sizemore recalls. Without Parks' support, the group wouldn't have gotten off the ground, Sizemore says.
"He's willing to support measures—like our tax measures—because he likes measures that help everyday people," Sizemore says.
Since that fateful meeting in 1993, Parks has poured millions into generally conservative political projects, in Oregon and nationally, including the financing, for a short period of time, of a charter school in Portland that he ended up closing. Many of Parks' political contributions have gone to tax-cutting campaigns, as well as to stiffen criminal penalties or reform the way higher-court judges are elected.
Parks' first involvement with Mannix came in support of Mannix's tough-on-crime measures that he put on the ballot during the 1990s. In 1994, for instance, Parks backed Mannix's Measure 11, an initiative measure that reduced the discretion of judges and created mandatory minimum sentences. Two years later, Parks provided $270,000 to help gather the signatures for another measure, which changed the rules of evidence and limited pretrial release of defendants; he also gave $200,000 for a radio advertising campaign managed by Gregg Clapper's "Only the Lawyers and Politicians Will Vote Against This One" committee. (Clapper, a former Gresham radio programmer, has worked closely with Parks on a number of similar radio campaigns, almost always drawing on one- or two-person "committees" with outlandish titles, which are financed by Parks.)
At the same time, Parks has been known to veer occasionally from the conservative line. Parks' contributions in the early 1990s helped win voter approval for the measure that allowed assisted suicide, and in 1997 he defended it by contributing $300,000 to a radio campaign sponsored by a Clapper committee called "Don't Let Them Shove Their Religion Down Your Throat." He has also contributed to Planned Parenthood. A conservative admirer says he's "overtly hostile" to religion.
But the bulk of Parks' personal political support generally goes to conservative candidates and issues.
In the current election cycle, in addition to supporting Mannix, Parks has also written checks for $64,500 to support Sizemore's initiative Measure 23, which would ban the use of credit scores in assessing insurance premiums. Parks has also donated $112,500 to the Taxpayer Rights Committee, a political action group established by yet another conservative Oregon activist, Russ Walker. Walker's group is sponsoring initiative Measure 14, which would allow Oregon taxpayers to deduct an amount equal to exemptions claimed on their federal tax return from their state return.
In light of the decade-long flood of cash from Parks, there are those in the conservative movement who have said, off the record, that people like Mannix and Sizemore are playing Parks for a sucker—that, once Parks is primed with the requisite emotional, anti-government rhetoric, he can be counted on to gush dollars,
Yet others who know Parks, including his fishing pal Dove, laugh at the idea. "Those people don't know Loren. This is not someone who can be manipulated," Dove says.
In some respects, Parks is the ideal contributor. He writes big checks and expects only ideological consistency from those he backs—candidates and issues that support making government smaller, less expensive and tougher on criminals.
"He's not a special interest, like a casino or a union," says Jack Kane, Mannix's main political consultant. "He's already got everything he needs. I wish I had his money—I'd be in Hawaii right now."
McIntire appreciates Parks' give-and-let-give approach. "I don't necessarily agree with all of Loren's political choices, but I do admire him for stepping up to the plate," McIntire says. "It's clear, obviously, that he's not in the game for personal gain. If more Oregon business people would put in just a fraction of what Loren Parks gives to political action, the state would be better off for it."
Larry George, who is running for the state Senate in Yamhill County, is another longtime political observer. His father, Gary, was one of the authors of Measure 37, the radical land-use ballot initiative passed two years ago, and the younger George does a good deal of poltical consulting. He says raising money from Parks differs from the usual.
"Typically, in Republican circles, you go and meet a big giver face to face and develop a relationship, and if they like you, they will write you a check," says George. "With Parks, you send him an email, and if he likes the issue, he'll support you."
In other ways, however, Parks is the kind of contributor who can create problems for the causes and candidates he supports because of his eccentricities, described by some conservatives as "unusual" or even "kooky."
Of course, by the time a man reaches the age of 79, he's probably entitled to hold eccentric or even kooky views, but even by contemporary standards, Loren Parks is pretty unconventional.
Parks is a devoted believer in what some might consider "faith healing," even if, as he admits, he is not religious. Parks believes the mind can control the body, to the extent of purging the body of illness—even cancer. One of the most important tools available for this effort, Parks believes, is self-hypnosis. By "reprogramming" the mind, Parks believes, an individual can overcome all manner of disease and neurosis.
In furtherance of his beliefs, Parks established his Psychological Research Foundation in 1977. Today, the foundation has a website, psychresearch.com, that offers advice on how to help the mind overcome physical and mental ailments.
The website offers his ideas about the unconscious and provides "self-therapy for depression, phobias, anxiety, headaches, allergies, sleep problems, dyslexia, stage fright, etc."
"The person who understands the most about how the mind works in our society," his website reads, "is the demagogue (Hitler, Mussolini, Kim Il Sung of North Korea, Castro, Arab extremists, etc. and hell, fire and damnation religionists like Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker). They know you can get people to do ridiculous things, like part with their money or give their lives, for ideas that make no sense at all. They do this in two ways: REPETITION and AROUSING EMOTION. THEY AROUSE FEELINGS OF PRIDE, GLORY, FEAR, GREED, LUST!
"When anyone arouses these emotions in you, he has you under his control.."
"He thinks he has some sort of mental power," asserts one longtime conservative political activist, who requested anonymity. "I once saw him on television—this was on local-access TV—and he was trying to demonstrate that he could cure stuttering. So this poor guy is sitting there, and Parks is in front of him, and Parks says, 'So, you have a stuttering problem?'
"Loren stands in front of the guy, taps him on the forehead once, hard.
"'DISconnect!' Loren says, and taps him again. 'DISconnect!'
"A minute or so goes by. Loren says, 'So, do you think we've cured your stuttering problem?'
"'I t-t-t-t-think s-s-so.'"
Where Parks' views become particularly graphic is in his discussion of sexual dysfunction, which he says arises from childhood and teen guilt. These deep-seated conflicts, Parks contends, are the usual cause of both impotence and the inability to achieve orgasm. Parks' candid approach to sexuality makes some "values" conservatives uncomfortable.
"The purpose of this sex-therapy information page is to help disconnect you from early guilt you accepted from others or laid on yourself," Parks advises on the Psychological Research Foundation website. "A normal woman will have intense orgasms, more than one unless her partner is too quick or clumsy, but several by finger manipulation of the clitoris and/or oral sex.
"A woman who arouses quickly and climaxes intensely and repeatedly is a real joy to be in bed with. I have encountered few of them EXCEPT those I created using the sex techniques I'm about to tell you about.
"A well-trained woman will have her first climax (come) in 30 seconds after entry or finger manipulation. In general, the longer the lovemaking build-up, the more intense the orgasm. I can give a trained woman a climax every 20 seconds or so but they aren't as intense. What's the limit? I've done 56 in a row not utilizing any hypnotic technique, mostly fingers and tongue."
Based on his beliefs, by the early '80s, Parks was conducting hypnotherapy seminars, attracting people who had psychological problems, ranging from fingernail biting to unhappy sex lives. He also began to "treat" people individually with his theories, at least once with some disastrous results.
This surfaced in a $1 million lawsuit filed in 1983 by a Washington County woman who accused Parks of, essentially, using his hypnotherapy techniques to seduce her. According to the suit, Parks told her she was "a game and an experiment." The case was later settled out of court.
Years later, another woman also accused Parks of inappropriate sexual behavior. The woman, an employee of Parks Medical Electronics Inc., complained that Parks had compelled her to have sex while on an overseas trip, and that the work environment in Aloha was nearly intolerable due to a flood of suggestive emails, some involving photographs including bestiality, necrophilia and violence to women's breasts (see "Dirty Old (Money) Man," WW, May 15, 2002).
A Portland lawyer who represented Parks in the lawsuit, Mark Wagner, declined to comment. A lawyer representing the woman, Craig Crispin, indicated that details of the allegations were subject to a protective order, but suggested that the case was eventually settled out of court in the woman's favor.
One might think that Parks' views about sex, his notions about religion and death, and his lawsuits associated with women might create problems for Mannix—who is well-known as a conservative, pro-life, anti-pornography Christian.
"He's not a liability," Mannix consultant Kane says of Parks. "Nobody knows who Loren Parks is. If you did a survey of Oregonians, you'd find only 1 to 3 percent in the state who've ever heard of him. Nobody knows him."
Loren Parks has been a regular sugar daddy for Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Mannix, starting with $500 in 1996 and up to $381,000 this year.
1996 - $500
1998 - $8,645.15
2000 - $210,000
2002 - $275,000
2005 - $50,000
2006 - $381,000 to date
SOURCE: OREGON SECRETARY OF STATE, ELECTIONS DIVISION
Ten years of campaign-cash records show the range (and the wild names) of the mostly conservative political action committees Loren Parks has backed.
In His Own Words
Selected responses Loren Parks emailed to WW (emphasis added):
"The Oregonian is trying to show me as a sex fiend. I assure you I am a normal impotent (now) male and all my sexual activities have been hetero and consensual."
"The big spread in WW [in 2002, about an employee's sexual-harassment suit] was caused by a woman who felt jilted, who traveled with me in luxury to various parts of the world, always ready and responsive for sex and an excellent traveling companion. I had a signed and witnessed contract with her before I ever touched her. She got pissed when I went back to my old girlfriend. She wanted me to sell the business and go to Spain with her (she's Spanish)."
"Plethysmograph: A volume (circumference, or length) sensing device consisting of rubber tubing filled with mercury (strain gage). When the tubing is stretched, the resistance changes and dimensional changes can be recorded.
The plethysmograph "is used in some prisons for treating sex offenders. They put the gage around the penis, show him nude children's pictures, and if he starts to get an erection as indicated by the plethysmographic recording, they shock him ... [W]e haven't sold one for over 6 years now, tho they used to be popular. Much ado about nothing by absolute idiots at The Oregonian and maybe WW."
"The sex techniques page is very popular on my website. Who teaches young men how to make love? It is instructional and has stuff in it you didn't know and the same for almost every man out there. Everything there is to provide information, let people know how they stand sexually, what to do to possibly improve their sex lives. I get lots of hits ... Some have corresponded, often from the Middle East and other foreign countries where sex education doesn't exist at all."
"Keep in mind, I am a lay therapist and never have charged. I have done therapy on radio and television, and have changed hundreds of lives for the better by the information I provide and the audio clips. Most popular page is fingernail biting.... The positive results can't be denied. Anyone can see them."
Carlton Smith worked at WW from 1980 to 1983. He is a former investigative reporter for The Los Angeles Times and the Seattle Times who is now a full-time true-crime writer. He is the author of 19 books, including the bestselling Search for the Green River Killer as well as the co-author of the forthcoming Defending Gary, about the defense of the confessed Green River Killer, Gary Ridgway. Smith resides in South Pasadena, Calif.
Together, Loren Parks' three foundations control about $10 million in tax-exempt funds, money that emanated from the profits of Parks Medical Electronics or Parks himself, and which helped to reduce the taxable bottom line for Parks and/or his company.
Parks was married for the first and only time in Minneapolis in 1951. He fathered three children with his wife, Auramae—Gary, born in 1953; Nancy, born in 1955; and Raymond, born in 1958.
In 1972, Auramae Parks sued for divorce, and a somewhat unpleasant dissolution occurred.
Parks' belief that he has "been the victim of corrupt judges and lawyers" may stem from the the two times he was sued by women over his relationships with them.
It may also be because Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers spent a little over two years investigating the Parks foundations' use of charitable funds for what the AG considered to be political purposes. In the end, Parks signed a consent decree, agreeing not to use foundation funds for politics in the future, and the foundations paid a $50,000 fine to the state.
Oregon is one of five states that places no cap on the amount of political contributions that an individual can give to a candidate or ballot measure.