Oregon Legislators Split on Campaign Contribution Limits

With the 2020 legislative session upcoming, Oregon lawmakers are once again torn on the issue of campaign finance reform.  

Oregon is one of only nine states with no limits on campaign contributions, along with Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. As a result, elections races in Oregon are some of the costliest in the country, according to Portland Attorney and campaign finance watchdog Dan Meek. He cites former Nike CEO Phil Knight’s contribution of $2.5 million to Knute Buehler’s 2018 gubernatorial run as an example, the third largest campaign donation in U.S. history.  

“It’s bizarre that Oregon politicians are so heavily dependent on large contributions,” he told KTVZ. “They take contributions here that would, of course, be criminal in 45 other states.”  

Currently, there are two major campaign finance bills slated for the legislative session: Senate Bill 1524 and House Bill 4124, both of which are mutually incompatible.  

SB 1524, proposed by Sen. Jeff Golden of Ashland, would place hard caps on campaign contributions — candidates for state office may only receive $750 from individual donors, and $15,000 from committees. For the offices of Governor, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, Attorney General or Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries the limits are raised to $2,000 from individuals and $40,000 from committees.  

However, Meek says the bill falls flat. “Oregon politicians have so little experience with limits on contributions, they don’t know how to write a bill to limit them. In other states where they already have limits, they understand how they work and what the loopholes are.”  

HB 4124, on the other hand, would delay implementing any caps until after the November elections. At that point, Oregonians will have voted on Senate Joint Resolution 18, which would amend the state constitution to allow campaign limits. Many legislators, including Gov. Kate Brown, have expressed their desire to hold off on a campaign finance framework until after the voters have made their opinion clear. 

Meek was similarly critical of this approach in an interview with OPB. “Oregon voters want campaign finance reform. The Legislature’s focus appears to be to move away from that goal.”  

By Brandon Urey