PORTLAND, Ore. — Bypassing decades of precedent, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that limits on campaign spending are legal under the state constitution.
Oregon is one of only a handful of states in the U.S. that have no limits on campaign contributions — be they from individuals, corporations, or PACs. The dubious distinction makes Oregon one of the biggest destinations for election spending in U.S. politics.
The 2018 Oregon gubernatorial campaign was the most expensive race in state history, with Kate Brown and Knute Buehler raising about $18.7 million between them. The vast majority of those funds came from a small number of individuals or groups.
According to the Associated Press, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that $500 campaign limits adopted by Multnomah County voters in 2016 do not violate the state constitution, though the ruling sends the case back to a lower court to decide whether Multnomah County’s dollar limits are too low.
Past rulings in the Oregon Supreme Court have largely regarded campaign contributions as a protected expression of free speech under the state constitution, much like the infamous Citizens United case at the U.S. Supreme Court determined for federal elections.
While the Oregon high court's ruling on Thursday did not overturn these past rulings, it did provide a path forward for some limitations on campaign contributions.
Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, applauded the decision in a statement issued Thursday afternoon:
“The Oregon Supreme Court made the right decision today. Until now, Oregon was one of just a few states without any limitations on campaign contributions. Campaign contribution limits will protect our democratic process and allow elections to be more competitive and inclusive. This ruling will strengthen the voices of every day Oregonians and ensure a representative government.”
Last year, the Oregon House passed a bill to cap contributions for statewide candidates. The bill did not make it through the Oregon Senate, and also required a referral to the ballot to be decided by Oregon voters.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.