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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: 174501

Reported Deaths: 2460
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah34800568
Washington23412229
Marion20116299
Clackamas15311204
Lane11554144
Jackson9904127
Umatilla796883
Deschutes708272
Linn414263
Yamhill408775
Klamath345259
Polk342952
Malheur342758
Josephine305462
Douglas304365
Benton273218
Jefferson206432
Coos196831
Columbia153826
Union141124
Lincoln129820
Wasco128928
Hood River112429
Morrow107915
Clatsop8918
Crook87819
Baker85614
Curry5939
Tillamook5803
Lake4137
Grant4064
Harney3056
Wallowa1575
Sherman570
Gilliam561
Wheeler251
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3716579

Reported Deaths: 60994
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles122864123628
Riverside2972154525
San Bernardino2945774550
San Diego2748113674
Orange2688694891
Santa Clara1169712013
Kern1078251322
Sacramento1010581646
Fresno1005001643
Alameda852561477
Ventura802301000
San Joaquin714311334
Contra Costa66927782
Stanislaus603831028
Tulare49383830
Monterey43267357
San Mateo41107560
San Francisco35993517
Santa Barbara33863446
Solano31875239
Merced31196452
Sonoma29679311
Imperial27962719
Kings22766245
Placer21751283
San Luis Obispo20917256
Madera16250239
Santa Cruz15554204
Marin13860226
Yolo13559199
Shasta11677217
Butte11549196
El Dorado9719109
Napa965479
Sutter9268109
Yuba609844
San Benito598263
Lassen566924
Tehama543056
Nevada444775
Tuolumne406664
Mendocino398747
Amador362151
Humboldt358737
Lake340643
Glenn235525
Colusa219816
Calaveras205551
Siskiyou194021
Inyo141738
Del Norte12747
Mono12734
Plumas6906
Modoc4884
Mariposa4247
Trinity3985
Sierra1100
Alpine880
Unassigned330
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