By Senator Ted Ferrioli
Oregonians urged to “follow the money
By Senator Ted Ferrioli
In casual conversations, people often ask why there are so few Oregon Republicans in public office today, and not a one in statewide office.
What they expect to hear in reply is that it’s a combination of things like public perception of our positions on social issues, growing independent voter registration and baggage left over from the Bush Administration. But that’s not what I think is the real problem.
The real reason there are so few Republicans elected in Oregon is that they’re just not in on the “fix.”
I’m referring to the most corrupt political game ever run in Oregon politics…. More corrupt , even, than when Big Jim Elkins ran the rackets in Portland and Multnomah County District Attorney William Langley repeatedly invoked the 5th Amendment before the McClellan Committee on Organized Crime.
So what is game and how does the “fix” work?
The game starts with tens of millions of dollars that are electronically deducted from public employee union paychecks and transferred to three special interest groups who use it to guarantee that no one who opposes their agenda gets or stays elected.
The “fix” began when union bosses cut “sweetheart deals” with a succession of weak governors and power-hungry legislative leaders in exchange for total or near–total political support and mountains of campaign cash.
These “sweetheart deals” have included the PERS tier one retirement benefit with its 8% earnings guarantee and public employee health insurance programs that feature near-zero co-pays and low or no deductibles.
It’s also why Oregon has the 2nd lowest student-to-teacher ratio in the Nation (19:1 in ’08 per NEA) and pays teachers an average of $51,811 (per NEA) for about 180 days of work.
Politicians in on the “fix” are promised support that includes volunteers for “doorbelling” (who show up on the doorstep with campaign literature but never show up on the Contribution and Expense reports), “independent” expenditures for mail, radio and television, third-party “527” expenditures and a boatload of campaign cash.
And the cash is virtually unlimited. According to the Oregon Department of Administrative Services (DAS) which tracks such things, two Oregon unions (OPEU and SEIU) receive more than $17 million per year in direct payments, automatically deducted from each and every union member paycheck. The OEA receives another $18 million per year, for a total of $37 million available every year in union resources.
Oregon Education Association has the same payroll deduction/direct deposit “deal” with Oregon school districts, but the “rake” can only be estimated since no one aggregates the numbers for teachers as DAS does for other public employees.
And guess what? Not one penny of the millions collected by the unions is used to fund retirement benefits or health insurance! Those payments have already been negotiated in still other “sweetheart” deals with those in power.
Is it illegal? No. Does it corrupt the political process? Yes, judging by the outcome. And if you follow the money, more than 90% of the campaign contributions generated by union payroll deductions goes to Democrats.
Or maybe people think it is just a coincidence that Governor Ted Kulongoski’s Chief of Staff was former OEA Executive Director Chip Terhune, recently succeeded as Chief of Staff by former AFL-CIO Executive Director Tim Nesbitt.
From time to time, I hear from public interest groups who want to “take the special interest money out of politics.”
When I dig deeper, I find they are really talking about corporate contributions. Somehow, they’ve been sold on the idea that corporations “own” Oregon politics but the facts say otherwise. Total contributions from all other sources combined is peanuts compared to the mountains of cash produced by the “fix.”
Many conditions in Oregon need to be addressed, like high unemployment, high income tax rates, poor student achievement, our miserable business climate, crippling fees and strangulation by government growth.
But the “fix” still produces campaign cash and the political corruption that goes with it, and as long as the money keeps flowing to politicians willing to take their orders from union bosses, it will continue.