OR Lawmakers Send Campaign Contribution Cap to Voters

By Eric Tegethoff

Oregon is one of five states with no limits on political campaign contributions. (James Steidl/Adobe Stock)

Oregon voters will have a chance to weigh in on the role of money in politics next year.

Among the flurry of legislation passed at the end of this year’s session is a resolution to put a constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot allowing the state to cap campaign contributions. Oregon is one of five states that have no limits for how much money corporations or individuals can contribute to a political candidate.

Attorney Jason Kafoury, a volunteer organizer for Honest Elections Oregon, said the legislation is historic, noting that Oregon legislative races are the second-most expensive in the nation.

“Putting good limits in place and disclosing who’s giving the big money on the independent expenditures will give us a much healthier democracy,” he said, “and, I hope, lead to citizens having more of a voice and not just big-corporate and big-money interests.”

Another measure that would have specified donation limits failed this session. Advocates for changes to campaign contributions said the limit was too high and there were too many loopholes in the bill.

After Republicans walked out last month over cap-and-trade legislation, Oregonian reporter Rob Davis calculated contributions back to 2009 from companies that would have been affected by the bill. He found that Senate Republicans received more than $117,000, while Senate Democrats received a little more than $43,000 – nearly a three-to-one ratio. Kafoury believes that’s the real reason senators walked out, and what pushed legislators to pass this bill.

“The Republicans left twice – once for a tax increase, and once to try to kill this climate bill,” he said. “Republicans weren’t leaving the state because of moral issues, like abortion or guns. They were leaving because these issues hit right at their big donors’ interests.”

Republican senators have denied this, saying Democrats are just trying to spin their failure to pass cap-and-trade legislation. They have said the walkout was necessary to defend the economic interests of their rural constituents. The contribution-cap resolution also had support from a handful of Republican lawmakers in both the House and Senate.

The text of SJR 18 is online at olis.leg.state.or.us.

Among other publications, Eric Tegethoff writes for the Public News Service.

This article appeared on July 3 at Public New Service.

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