[Editor's Note: Today's article is part of a pro/con series on select ballot measures to better inform and educate our blog audience.]
Campaign spending in Oregon is out of control.
Since 1996, total reported political spending in Oregon increased ten-fold, from $4.2 million to $42 million in 2002. Spending on legislative races then increased again in 2004.
Oregon is one of just five states with no limits on campaign contributions. Laws are so lax here that what Tom Delay was indicted for in Texas, channeling corporate money to state legislative races, is not only legal in Oregon but would hardly be noticed (since it was only $155,000). Corporations routinely contribute 100 times that much in an election cycle in Oregon.
The 2002 race for Governor broke all records, with each major party candidate spending over $4 million and each serious primary contender spending over $1.5 million. The unions contributed over $1.2 million to Ted Kulongoski’s campaign, while Loren Parks and the timber companies were generous with Kevin Mannix. This year, Ron Saxton’s campaign for Governor plants to spend over $6 million, and Kulongoski will not be far behind. It now typically costs over $500,000 to win a contested race for State Senate and over $250,000 to win a contested seat in the Oregon House of Representatives. In legislative races over the past 3 cycles, the candidate spending the most money has won over 90% of the time, and the few exceptions are candidates who almost outspent their opponents and had the benefit of name recognition from service in the other body of the Legislature.
The money buys big favors for the donors. For example:
Enron/Portland General Electric got a $400 million annual rate increase in 2001 and since 1997 has charged Oregon ratepayers over $900 million for federal and state “income taxes” it never paid. Why? PGE gave over $500,000 to Oregon politicians.
The corporate share of Oregon income taxes has declined from 18% in the 1970s to only 4%. The corporate “kicker” will further cut corporate income taxes by 36% in 2005 and 61% next year, with half of the cuts going to 50 large corporations. Why? The big corporations provide most of the campaign cash for candidates of both major parties.
Video Poker outlets get $100 million per year over the reasonable level of commissions. Why? The Oregon Restaurant Association gave over $1.2 million to Oregon politicians since 2000.
Drug companies defeated bills to expand the Oregon Prescription Drug Purchasing Pool to save hundreds of millions of dollars for Oregonians (an average of 30%) by having the State negotiate lower prices. How? The drug and medical equipment companies gave over $3 million to Oregon politicians since 2000.
The Oregonian (June 4, 2006) says Oregon “has lowered its cigarette tax and all but surrendered in the battle to reduce tobacco use.” The American Lung Association gave Oregon “F” in smoking prevention. Why? The tobacco companies gave over $600,000 to Oregon politicians since 2000.
Measure 46 is a simple, one sentence change to the Oregon Constitution to allow the people using the initiative process (or the Legislature by 3/4 votes of both houses) to adopt or amend limits on campaign contributions in Oregon. This is needed, because the Oregon Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the Oregon Constitution does not currently allow any limits on political contributions in any race for state or local public office. The ACLU of Oregon challenged this measure as “more than one amendment” and even won a unanimous decision from the Oregon Court of Appeals in its favor in April 2006, after 18 months of litigation. But the Oregon Supreme Court in September 2006 by a 5-1 vote decided that Measure 46 is not complex and constitutes one single amendment.
Measure 47 would enact a comprehensive system of campaign finance reform for candidate elections that would ban corporate and union contributions and set reasonable limits on how much individuals can contribute to political campaigns. Individuals would be limited to contributing in any statewide race $500 before the primary and another $500 before the general election for that particular office. The limit on an individual’s contribution to any non-statewide candidate would be $100 before the primary and again $100 before the general election. Newly created “small donor committees” could give unlimited contributions to candidates, but their money could only come from donations from individuals giving $50 or less per year to that committee.
Instead of favoring whoever can give the most money with no limits, as the current system does, Measure 47 places emphasis on the ability to raise smaller contributions from larger numbers of people while eliminating the biggest source of campaign cash in Oregon: huge donations from corporations, wealthy individuals, and unions. With Measures 46 and 47, elections will favor those candidates that can successfully engage people with ideas rather than whoever is more successful at courting the big donors who use their money to unduly influence Oregon politics.
The regulation of campaign contributions as a way to reduce special interest influence in politics is nothing new. In 1994 a 72″ “yes” vote enacted a campaign finance reform ballot initiative that set limits similar to those in Measure 47. A statewide poll in late 2005 showed support for contribution limits at 76% of registered voters polled, with 12% opposed and 11% undecided. Of those expressing an opinion, 85% favored limits on contributions. This level of support was about the same among Democrats and Republicans and in all of Oregon’s five congressional districts.
Unfortunately, the will of Oregon voters was overturned in 1997, after campaign finance reform opponents argued that limits on campaign spending violated the free speech part of the Oregon Constitution (Article I, Section 8)–the same section that protects live sex shows and nude lap dances in bars, according to the Oregon Supreme Court in September 2005.
On the other hand, all of the state’s major unions oppose both of these measures, including AFL-CIO, SEIU, OEA, and AFSCME. Also opposing are Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and other “lefty” organizations. Business groups are mixed. The Portland Business alliance is neutral on Measure 46 but opposes Measure 47, perceiving its limits to be too low. Of course, the 2007 Legislature can raise those limits, with 3/4 majorities. Since all members of the 2007 Legislature will have been elected under the current “Big Money” system, that is not out of the question.
Much more information is available at www.fairelections.net.