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Oregon takes steps toward campaign finance reform

Oregon is one of only five states to have absolutely no limits on how much money can be donated to political campaigns.

Posted: Jun 6, 2019 2:28 PM
Updated: Jun 6, 2019 2:36 PM

By SARAH ZIMMERMAN Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon is one of only five states to have absolutely no limits on how much money can be donated to political campaigns.

But lawmakers took a step to change that Thursday, when the House passed a measure approving the state's first campaign contribution limits in decades.

The proposal caps contributions to House and Senate candidates at $1,000 and $1,500, respectively. Contributions to all other statewide candidates would be capped at $2,800.

The measure now goes to the Senate, though voters would need to approve the limits in the 2020 election.

Although legislators have tried to implement campaign finance reform, they've run into legal complications thanks to the Oregon constitution's free speech provision. The state's Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that campaign donations are a form of free speech and can't be limited.

The high-priced governor's race last year rekindled the debate over spending limits and has prompted lawmakers to try again. In addition to donation caps, legislators are also considering disclosure requirements for political ads.

But campaign finance limits would still require a constitutional change, and voters would need to approve amending the state constitution in addition to the caps proposed by lawmakers.

Gov. Kate Brown secured re-election over former Republican state Rep. Knute Buehler in a race that broke fundraising records when candidates raised a combined total of $30 million. Buehler received a $1.5 million donation from Nike co-founder Phil Knight, the largest donation by an individual to a candidate in Oregon history.

Brown, who received a $500,000 donation from the D.C.-based nonprofit EMILY's List, has made political spending limits a priority and expressed support for the constitutional change and the proposed limits.

"We are way out of step with the rest of this country on this issue," she said. "No one person should be allowed to buy a megaphone so loud that it drowns out all the other voices in the race."

But the proposed limits have drawn criticism, and Republicans rapped a loophole in the bill allowing for unlimited money to flow to candidates through political party committees.

Rep. Cheri Helt, a Republican from Bend, said she supports campaign finance changes but said she believed this proposal "limits transparency."

Other opponents say the limits are far too high, higher than limits voters approved back in 2006. Voters over a decade ago approved capping donations to $100 for legislative candidates and $500 for statewide candidates, but that law never took effect because of the state's constitution.

This new proposal explicitly overturns the 2006 law, ensuring it can never be enforced even if voters eventually approve a constitutional amendment.

Rep. Dan Rayfield, the Democrat from Corvallis behind the proposal, said that while he understands the criticism, the state can't afford to continue to do nothing.

"This is a tough topic and it's probably why this legislature hasn't done anything on this in 44 years," he said. "This bill sets up a strong structure in the state of Oregon to build upon."

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 130246

Reported Deaths: 1737
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah27890446
Washington18245166
Marion15878233
Clackamas11445134
Lane8042107
Jackson675782
Umatilla653065
Deschutes480532
Malheur311351
Yamhill309644
Linn304842
Polk236638
Klamath235230
Jefferson166125
Josephine164230
Benton164013
Douglas162943
Union108916
Wasco103723
Columbia100418
Lincoln96817
Hood River93121
Coos92314
Morrow9149
Clatsop6574
Crook5819
Baker5495
Tillamook3572
Curry3164
Lake2275
Grant1821
Harney1673
Wallowa923
Gilliam471
Sherman470
Wheeler191
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2877830

Reported Deaths: 32159
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles97529913234
San Bernardino2415231560
Riverside2334802399
San Diego2041752005
Orange2027532195
Santa Clara883791028
Kern81490550
Fresno78278846
Sacramento782681044
Alameda63866776
Ventura56453388
San Joaquin54796736
Contra Costa49082395
Stanislaus40695720
Tulare39347482
Monterey34072248
San Mateo30196268
San Francisco27863237
Imperial24717460
Solano24291105
Merced22932287
Santa Barbara22769214
Sonoma22610227
Kings18164110
Placer16532172
San Luis Obispo14625119
Madera12570130
Santa Cruz11423111
Marin11126148
Yolo9933131
Shasta9450111
Butte9013120
Sutter737975
El Dorado732639
Napa702838
Lassen504813
Yuba471226
San Benito469841
Tehama391742
Tuolumne327036
Nevada303770
Mendocino300331
Amador291429
Lake232128
Humboldt222024
Glenn179219
Colusa16679
Calaveras149322
Siskiyou137312
Mono10384
Inyo88227
Del Norte8272
Plumas5695
Modoc3733
Mariposa3344
Trinity2994
Alpine730
Sierra670
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