Today, Oregon is one of only five states in the country with no limits whatsoever on political campaign contributions. Governor Kate Brown and Democrats in the legislature are now trying to impose limits on these donations, but critics say current proposals don’t go far enough.
House Bill 2714 (HB 2714), whose chief sponsor is Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis), would cap contributions to House candidates at $1,000, Senate candidates at $1,500, and statewide candidates at $2,800. It would also allow unions and membership organizations to create committees to pool individual member donations, up to $250 per member annually.
Campaign finance was made out to be a central part of Democrats’ agenda after the 2018 campaign in which Nike founder Phil Knight donated $3.5 million to Republican candidates and organizations. During her acceptance speech in November, Gov. Brown pledged to impose limits on political contributions.
There are already laws on the books setting limits on political contributions, like 2006’s Measure 47, which capped contributions at $100 for all legislative candidates and $500 for statewide offices. However, courts decided in favor of a decades-old precedent which claims Oregon’s constitution does not allow laws capping political contributions. HB 2714 repeals Measure 47, circumventing the need to petition the court to overturn their decision.
There is also an ongoing case in Multnomah County, where voters passed contribution limits in 2016. This may determine whether the issue of imposing contribution limits could be brought to the voters statewide in 2020.
The largest loophole the bill leaves open is the ability to pass money through political action or political party committees, which are exempt from contribution limits and, in some cases, disclosing the identities of their donors. This is “a well-known tactic,” according to Portland attorney Dan Meek, an advocate for campaign finance reform.
Rep. Rayfield told reporters committees were left out of the bill to allow them to continue to fund their candidates’ “get-out-the-vote” efforts, and said this purpose was “nonpartisan in nature.”
There are two other bills working alongside HB 2714 — HB 2716 and 2983 — which attempt to address different aspects of campaign finance. HB 2716 technically requires disclosure of who is actually funding political ads, but legal professionals like Dan Meek believe the current version is “nearly useless.”
By Ian MacRonald