Campaign Finance Reform Passes, Questions Remain

The Oregon House passed a hotly contested set of bills which impose caps on individual contributions to political candidates. Oregon is one of only five states with no campaign finance limits of any kind. Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) shepherded this bill toward passage, and has been the recipient of criticism from both sides of the aisle over whether the bill goes too far or not far enough.  

House Bill 2714 caps contributions to House candidates at $1,000, Senate candidates at $1,500, and statewide candidates at $2,800. It also allows unions and membership organizations to pool individual member donations, up to $250 per member, per year. 

Critics on the left believe the bill is not strong enough, leaving open well-known loopholes like the use of political committee to herd large sums of money toward single candidates.   

Republican critics are more varied. Some believe, as state and federal courts have held, that money is effectively speech and can only be limited in specific ways. Others worry regulation will “limit transparency” – by putting too many barriers on public contributions, candidates would then turn to unaccountable sources of finance.   

“This is a tough topic and it’s probably why this legislature hasn’t done anything on this in 44 years,” said Rayfield.  

Some say these limits are too high, compared to a 2006 law capping contributions at $100 for legislative candidates and $500 for statewide offices. This law was struck down by the courts on the basis of their money-as-speech understanding.    

Governor Kate Brown made a pledge during her acceptance speech in November 2018 that campaign finance reform would be a central piece of Democrats’ legislative agenda. This was likely in response to Nike co-founder Phil Knight donating a total of $3.5 million to Republican candidates and organizations, including Brown’s opponent Knute Buehler, throughout the 2018 campaign.  

By Ian MacRonald