After months of negotiations over what a campaign finance limit system might look like for Oregon, a set of leftist groups found themselves in a bind last week.
Today, some participants in these negotiations are going it alone.
A coalition of good governance groups tabled three potential voting metrics with the state on Monday disrupting Oregon’s permissive fundraising system. The group says it will decide which one to propose to voters in 2022, once polls show which is more popular.
Although complex and different in their specifics, each of the proposals would create new limits on what individuals, advocacy groups, labor organizations, businesses and political parties can bring to candidates and causes.
The proposals also include requirements that political ads prominently display major donors and that so-called “black money” groups disclose their funding sources if they engage in a campaign.
One of the proposals would implement a system of public campaign finance, allowing candidates to accept small donations from individual donors and multiply that money with matching public funds. With government funding of up to $ 8 million per cycle for gubernatorial candidates – and much lower amounts for other offices – the system is designed to allow candidates to run competitive campaigns without focusing only on the big guys. donors.
“I think they’re all transformative for Oregon,” said Jason Kafoury, a longtime advocate of campaign funding limits with the Honest Elections Oregon group, and a chief petitioner in the efforts.
“These steps can help restore voter confidence in a healthy democracy,” said Rebecca Gladstone, president of the League of Women Voters of Oregon. “Voters need to know that our elections are fair and free from the undue influence of powerful black money at the expense of voters. We can accomplish this and restore confidence in our political system. “
If passed, one of the measures would ensure that Oregon no longer sits among a handful of states with no limit on how much donors can give to candidates and voting initiatives. Without these limits, the cost of Oregon’s campaigns has increased with each cycle, with the 2022 governor’s race apparently on track to be the most expensive in state history.
But the proposals put forward on Monday lack something their supporters had been working on: membership by unions of Oregon civil servants and left-wing advocacy groups that play a powerful role in Oregon politics. State.
In talks that took place over six months, those groups agreed to some aspects of the system that Honest Elections Oregon and its allies are proposing, attendees said. But unions and advocacy groups have bristled with enforcement mechanisms they say may be too strict, and disclosure requirements, according to leaders of some small nonprofit groups, could make it difficult to collect evidence. funds.
“We couldn’t quite get it done,” Joe Baessler, policy coordinator for the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees, said Monday.
Groups such as Planned Parenthood, the Communities of Color Coalition, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, and the state farm workers’ union, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, were among those who ultimately did not approve a proposal. .
“There have been a lot of conversations and they have been productive,” said Doug Moore, executive director of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. “In the end, there just wasn’t an agreement.”
Kafoury said Monday that the differences were in part the result of disagreement over how much Oregon’s election status quo should change.
“Democratic good government groups were leaning over, how do we get a lot of money to have a much less dominant force in Oregon politics?” ” he said. “Work and [nonprofit] the groups were looking at the question: how do we do this, but also be able to maintain our political participation? “
The lack of consensus creates a potential nightmare scenario for groups like Honest Elections Oregon. If unions and their allies actively oppose a campaign finance measure or table their own, the battle could undermine hopes of implementing new rules ahead of the 2024 election.
But people on both sides of the split said on Monday it was too early to say if something so dramatic would happen.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if some of our coalition partners want to table their own measures,” Baessler, AFSCME political coordinator, said on Tuesday. “If this has all we want, we would support this measure. “
Kafoury said the decision to go ahead without consensus was in part based on timing. His campaign plans to collect 1,000 valid signatures for each of his three proposals, enough to prompt the state to draft a text that would appear on the ballot.
But legal wrangling over the language of the ballot can last for months. Kafoury said lawyers need to file measures now in order to allow themselves enough time to collect signatures. To qualify for the November 2022 election, the campaign must submit 112,020 valid signatures by July 8.
“We had to deposit now or we weren’t going to have a chance to cast the ballot,” he said.
Voters in Oregon have recently shown enthusiasm for limiting the influence of money in politics. Last year, a measure that amended the state’s constitution to formally allow such limits was passed with more than 78 percent of the vote.
And more than a decade earlier, in 2006, voters approved a measure which included strict limits on campaign donations. However, the law ultimately did not come into effect due to an earlier Oregon Supreme Court ruling that held such limits to be an unconstitutional violation of free speech protections.
The topic of campaign finance is an eternal common thread in Salem, where lawmakers who have been successful under the current unrestricted system are struggling to find consensus on how to change the status quo.
Lawmakers have been unable to find the political will to pass their own regulations this year, despite overwhelming support from voters. The proposals to implement campaign contribution ceilings and to create a new system of public campaign finance have not received enough attention.
Given the tension over this, the plans put forward on Monday are sure to have some criticism.
Each of the three proposed measures implements a similar set of limits on how many different entities can donate to campaigns and causes. For example, all of the measures would limit an individual to giving $ 4,000 per election cycle to a statewide candidate and $ 2,000 per cycle to legislative candidates. Political action committees associated with specific candidates would be subject to the same limits.
But some entities could give much more. Committees associated with political parties could give up to $ 100,000 per cycle to statewide candidates and $ 20,000 to legislative candidates.
The proposals also have higher limits for small donor committees likely to be favored by unions and member organizations that include advocacy and business groups that engage in campaigns.
Caucus committees, the supporter PACs in each chamber of the Legislature that raise and spend large sums to support legislative candidates, would be limited to a contribution of $ 10,000 per electoral cycle for any race.
The initiatives also include new requirements – similar to laws that Honest Elections Oregon convinced voters in Portland and Multnomah County – that require political ads to reveal the groups that paid them and the major backers for each of those. groups. And they demand so-called black money campaigns that spend above certain thresholds to independently support or oppose a campaign – without that campaign’s involvement – to disclose donors.
Violations of the limits would be punishable by civil fines of at least the amount of the illegal contribution or campaign expenses. If passed, the new contribution limits would take effect on January 1, 2023, while donor disclosure requirements would begin in June 2023.
Kafoury said on Monday he expects the proposals to be popular with the public – especially in an election year in which they are likely to see mind-boggling political spending as jockey candidates to replace Governor Kate Brown. Former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof and State Senator Betsy Johnson, in particular, have been raising funds at a breakneck pace, with big checks coming from well-placed industry groups and supporters.
“If there’s been a moment in Oregon politics to show how necessary this is, just look at the last few months of the gubernatorial race,” Kafoury said. “This will be the perfect cycle, we think, to bring campaign finance reform to voters because of the grotesque amount of money that is going to be spent.”
But there will probably also be obstacles. Covid has made signature collection efforts much more difficult than before the pandemic. Kafoury said his campaign could end up asking a court to change the signature collection threshold, if the campaign runs into problems.
Or, they could ask lawmakers for help.
“There is a possibility that if we come to an agreement, the lawmaker could send something back directly” to the ballot, he said. “There are a lot of different scenarios going forward. “