Campaign Donation Fight Renewed, Oregon Court Says Limits are Legal

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled on April 23 that campaign contribution limits do not violate the constitution, making them now legal in the state of Oregon. What that means, however, is not yet certain, as Oregon’s Secretary of State and Attorney General review to see if the ruling means a 2006 ballot measure would now take effect – the court had stayed the measure earlier.  

Possible impact: This ruling means controls could now be legal on campaign donations in local and statewide elections. It may also be a sign that Oregon’s distinction as one of the biggest money states in politics will end.  

As of right now, Oregon is one of five states who do not have campaign donation limits, meaning the wealthy companies and people of the state can give however much they want to the campaigns they support. This has made Oregon’s elections some of the costliest in the United States. 

The decision also comes at an uncertain time, with the current election cycle and its fundraising being majorly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.  For instance, Mayor Ted Wheeler of Portland has relied on dozens of donor checks that exceed the $500 limit which was approved by voters in 2018. Now, these checks may count as violations of the new ruling on city’s campaign limits.  

The largest potential effect of the decision is believed to be at the state level, where races for two-year House seats can cost up to $1 million.   

Some background: In 2006, Oregon voters adopted Measure 47, which capped campaign donations at $500 for statewide office and $100 for legislative races. However, because voters simultaneously rejected a measure that would have made Measure 47 constitutionally legal, the law was left up in the air and has yet to take full effect.  

The supreme court previously put this measure on hold and claimed it would take effect if a previous case, Vanatta vs. Keisling, was ever overruled “to a sufficient degree.” The opinion decided on April 23 didn’t specifically address Measure 47 or the previous opinion, but did deny the earlier reasoning of the Vanatta vs. Keisling case.  

Nobody knows what this means quite yet: A spokeswomen for Secretary of State Bev Clarno says Clarno is currently reviewing the opinion and assessing next steps. Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum’s spokeswoman also says the opinion is being reviewed.  

 By Cara Nixon