Oregon Sec of State: It’s OK if Democrats do it

Kate Brown, Oregon SOS

Kate Brown, Oregon SOS

by Jacob Daniels

Cronyism is Alive and Well in Oregon: Patricia McCaig Decision Diminishes Transparency in State Elections

On September 24, Willamette Week’s Nigel Jaquiss reported that an advisor to Governor John Kitzhaber, named Patricia McCaig, was “working off the books.” McCaig, who used her consulting skills to save Governor John Kitzhaber’s 2010 campaign for Governor, and later became a consultant on the defunct Columbia River Crossing project where she was paid $553,000, has been advising Kitzhaber in his 2014 bid for a 4th term without reporting her work to the Oregon Secretary of State (SOS).

It is common that political consultants who are donating their time to a campaign will “in-kind” the value of their services to the SOS.  The public interest is obvious: elections are more transparent when consultants report political work that is performed in-kind.

In fact, in 2010, McCaig reported in-kind work, valued at $6,000 per month, for August and September (she was later paid $67,000 as part of Kitzhaber’s transition team).  Strangely enough, however, even though McCaig has a history of reporting in-kind consulting, she decided against it in 2014… until Nigel Jaquiss found out.

A complaint was filed by the Oregon Republican Party and the Kitzhaber campaign also sought “guidance” from their crony – the Oregon Secretary of State.  The answer from the SOS’s office: “No need to report McCaig’s in-kind political work.”

The decision that McCaig did not have to report her in-kind work was based off of an exemption in the law.  Under ORS 260.005(3)(a), exempt from reporting are “personal services for which no compensation is asked or given.”

This exemption is for volunteers.  Volunteers are the hardworking people who stuff envelopes, make phone calls and knock on doors; they are the lifeblood of any campaign.  Most of the time these volunteers are retired or people looking to begin a career in politics.  The exemption was not created to hide the involvement of high profile political consultants.  As such, in-kind services are regularly reported to the SOS.

This decision has made Oregon elections less transparent and undermined Democracy.

In the opinion of the SOS, professional political operatives, who often work as lobbyists, can work on campaigns without compensation and without reporting the in-kind contribution.

This means that certain individuals can be making high level decisions for a campaign and a candidate can hide that person’s involvement. This runs entirely contrary to the spirit of the law, which is to provide transparency and accountability for campaigns.

Under the SOS opinion, a person can be employed by a special interest group who wants to exert influence over the candidate – this may just be implicit, but nonetheless, the firm or group hopes it will pay dividends later.

A person only has to register as a lobbyist if they are doing lobby work. But you don’t have to register as a lobbyist if you are working on a campaign, even if you have the intent of lobbying/molding that candidate’s positions.

Prior to the SOS decision, there was accountability because the public could see WHO was helping a candidate get elected… And thus, they would be able to take proper recourse if it looked like favors were being dulled out to that individual or their associates.

Now powerful and influential consultants can work on campaigns without disclosing their involvement… and that’s not healthy for Democracy. Cronyism won the day.

Jacob Daniels is an attorney who works in Oregon politics… and he in-kinds his services