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: 357526

Reported Deaths: 4284
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah55810707
Washington38782324
Marion36837455
Clackamas29779309
Lane27744302
Jackson23059310
Deschutes20336125
Umatilla14492150
Linn12911131
Douglas12118243
Josephine9384196
Yamhill8715113
Klamath8020119
Polk737381
Malheur563677
Benton549431
Coos503794
Columbia382644
Jefferson376052
Lincoln319939
Union319549
Crook291846
Wasco288841
Clatsop244328
Baker203529
Tillamook196932
Hood River192837
Morrow185023
Curry180625
Harney113927
Grant100013
Lake93912
Wallowa68612
Gilliam1544
Sherman1523
Wheeler1121
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 4852216

Reported Deaths: 71350
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles148510526549
Riverside3716705041
San Diego3678574183
San Bernardino3586775692
Orange3242885562
Sacramento1596362309
Kern1463481648
Fresno1463182094
Santa Clara1455431897
Alameda1206921400
San Joaquin1027761721
Ventura1010381167
Contra Costa1000181008
Stanislaus862991335
Tulare80375978
San Francisco54440649
San Mateo54168623
Monterey50911586
Solano46063341
Santa Barbara45223523
Merced42422581
Sonoma40997404
Placer39435429
Imperial36071766
Kings32938325
San Luis Obispo29973333
Madera23955285
Shasta23924352
Butte23818273
Santa Cruz21034221
Yolo20397248
Marin17706244
El Dorado17207149
Sutter13937175
Napa12898100
Yuba1011582
Tehama9534110
Humboldt9269109
Nevada916790
Mendocino766787
Lassen754347
San Benito744972
Tuolumne691790
Lake6631105
Amador547364
Siskiyou451246
Glenn438433
Calaveras391481
Del Norte358742
Colusa307618
Inyo214241
Mono16723
Plumas16607
Mariposa133916
Trinity88011
Modoc6895
Sierra1880
Unassigned1460
Alpine1050
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