The pro side on Measure 46 & 47.

[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

  • Scat Cat Pdx

    Any limits are a violation of individual liberty. I see campaign spending is a part of free speech. Also such limitations such as McCain–Feingold Act only serve the political class as a way of placing barriers in front of the competition. Instead of fighting corruption campaign finance reform will causes even more.

  • J.O.

    Total spending on political campaigns is a function of total government spending: the more the government spends, the more valuable it is to purchase government influence.

    Campaign finance reformers ignore this reality, because they want to have it both ways. They like high levels of gov’t spending, but low levels of campaign spending.

    But you can’t do that without smothering free speech. Even if you try, money is like water and it will find a way to influence politics as long as politicians are able to command and spend a lot of money.

    If we want to limit campaign spending, we have to limit government spending first.

  • Steven Plunk

    I agree with Scat Cat. The rights of the individual must be respected above all else here. Money is our avenue to free speech and controlling that will control our speech.

    If some want to take the influence of money out of politics then create a system that allows contributions to candidates with anonimity. It’s hard to fulfill quid pro quo when you don’t know where your money came from. The donors would still get to contribute to the causes they believe in but now know it will not buy influence and corrupt the elected leaders.

    These misguided efforts we see now will not pass constitutional muster (Oregon constitution). If dancing naked is free speech then giving money to causes is certainly free speech.

  • Sorry, Mr. Plunk, you are apparently unaware that BM46 is a proposed change to our state constitution. And J.O., you are wrong about the chicken/egg element of campaign spending and government spending. The lobbying part came first…why else would legislators vote for one pet cause over another?

    As one of only five states with NO campaign spending restrictions whatsoever, Oregon is out of whack politically and ALL of its citizens are suffering as a result.

    Want to get big labor money out of our political system? Vote YES on 46 & 47. Want to eliminate corporate “bribery” of our “citizen” legislators? Vote YES on 46 & 47. Want to make sure that the voice (and checkbook) of the little guy like you or me counts as much as big, out of state special interest groups? Vote YES on 46 & 47.

    Money is NOT free speech. Free speech is the debate we’re having here. However, because of big money, this is the kind of debate you won’t see in our Governor’s race or anywhere else in Oregon in 2006. The real issues are debated behind closed doors, where the moneyed interests are close at hand, ready to inject their influence.

  • Jerry

    Kaza is right – Oregon campaigns are a joke – only unions and big business have the $ to bribe the candidates, and bribe they certainly do. Didn’t Dan give you enough examples?
    By the way, nude lap dancing is NOT free speech in any way. The founding fathers were not thinking of actions when they discussed speech…they were thinking speech.
    Oregon’s liberal interpretations of such important freedoms hurt all of us. Ask a lap dancer sometime if you don’t believe me….

  • Steven Plunk

    I understand this is an attempt to change the Oregon constitution but I expect the courts to throw it out. It can happen if it conflicts with other guarantees already in the constitution.

    I have to agree with Jerry that campaigns are a joke. But I don’t see this as the proper fix.

    As for the dancing, I didn’t decide it was speech, the courts did. My point is if you are going to give nude dancing the constitutional protection of free speech then you certainly should give it to campaign contributions to people or causes you believe in.

    We all agree the system is broken it just seems we see different ways to fix it.

  • Separate process from result.

    If the door to selection of a legislative branch representative or initiative campaign is closed then folks will turn toward the judicial branch.

    See:; where the court is considered an appropriate route to exercise free speech liberties.

    I am not one that can believe that a demand for a remedy or special privilege can just go away. It is instead like a clown’s party balloon that can be twisted into many shapes.

    This is a Support Your Favorite Lawyer ploy. Imagine if the limits applied equally to all legal action that touch on any matter of “public interest,” inclusive of the notion of the public actually paying lawyers that advocate for the public interest — and particularly an arbitrary doubling of the public payment in the discretion of a judge under specific, arguably narrow, circumstances. The Oregon Supreme Court has stated that someone may not assert a free speech right as a means of demanding admission to the bar. (Perhaps they would need to reconsider, or alternatively cut back on legal fees that someone today voluntarily chooses to pay a legal advocate or that are paid by government to a lawyer.)

    This is funny, like the clown. Separate result from process and mix it up again.

    The measure of my grievance(s)/wishful thinking, were I to even win the lottery, are not subject to arbitrary limitation by picking some number out of a hat, like that of “tort reform” advocates to place a limit on the value of my life or the quality of my life.

  • It’s amazing, given what we know of the correlation between the amount of money raised and election success, that some folks believe unlimited contributions are hunky-dory. If the front-end correlation weren’t sufficient, its easy to identify the pay-offs for the big contributors.

    Free speech is meant to strengthen democracy, not undermine it. Some speech is so damaging, that it is not protected. Yelling “fire”in a crowded theater is the classic example. Hijacking the electoral process to increase one’s bottomline is even more damaging. It robs the public treasury, let’s looters pick-pocket consumers, and deters policy in the interest of the voters.

    Fair Elections Measures 46 & 47 would make Oregon government more responsive to the voters. That’s in the interest of conservatives. It’s in the interest of liberals. It’s just not in the interest of kleptocrats.

    Money is NOT speech.

  • Why don’t the conservative commenters hear realize that Measures 46 & 47 would establish for Oregon candidate races essentially the same system that applies to elections to the U.S. Congress, except that the limits on individual contributions would be somewhat lower than the $2000 allowed in congressional races. And, Measure 47 would limit inidividual independent expenditures to $10,000 per year. It is the Republicans, not the Democrats, who are now seeking to amend McCain-Feingold to place limits on individual independent expenditures, because they fear repeats of 2004, when George Soros alone kicked $25 million to liberal “independent expenditure” groups.