Oregon Governor Race Engulfed in Record-Breaking Tidal Wave of Money
Contribution by Phil Knight: 3rd Largest Political Donation to a Candidate by an Unrelated Person in U.S. History
Honest Elections Portland, the group organizing the Portland Campaign Finance Reform Charter Amendment on the November ballot as Measure 26-200, notes that the $3.425 million contributed by Phil Knight to the campaign of Knute Buehler for Governor ($2.5 million in direct contributions and $925,000 channeled through the Republican Governors' Association) appears to be the 3rd largest known campaign contribution to any single candidate by another individual, not the candidate or a close relative, in the history of the United States.
The 2 larger such contributions by an individual to a single candidate were made by Ken Griffin, CEO of Citidal, an investment firm that runs hedge funds. In 2016, he contributed $13.6 million to the campaign of Eric Greitens for Governor of Illinois and $5 million to the campaign of Leslie Munger for Controller of Illinois. He also contributed $5 million to campaign of James Durkin, the Republican Leader of the Illinois House of Representatives. But contributions to his campaign went to help other Republican candidates, so cannot be considered contributions to a single candidate.
The largest contribution made by a married couple was $90 million from Bruce Rauner and Diana Mendley, who gave $90 million in 2016 to the campaign of James Durkin. Again, contributions to that campaign were then redirected into the campaigns of other Republicans, so they were not for the benefit of a single candidate. Rauner was chair of a private equity firm before he financed his own campaign for Illinois Governor in 2016, which he won.
On a per-capita basis (based on state population), the total Knight contribution to the Buehler campaign appears to be the second largest such contribution U.S. history by an individual to a candidate who is not a close relative. Oregon's population is 4.1 million. Illinois's population is 12.8 million. There have been larger contributions by organizations (PACs and one corporation).
Source: Dan Meek, reading data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics
Oregon is one of only 5 states with no limits on political campaign contributions. "These contributions would be illegal in 45 states and would be illegal if given to any candidate for federal office anywhere, including Congress and the President," said Dan Meek, a volunteer attorney with the Honest Elections campaign. No person can give more than $2,700 to the general election campaign of a candidate for Congress or President. Phil Knight's contributions to the Buehler campaign reported so far are 1,268 times higher than that.
But both the campaigns of Knute Buehler (R) and Kate Brown (D) rely upon huge contributions from corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals. According to an ongoing study by Seth Woolley, using data from the ORESTAR campaign finance reporting system (updated nightly), Brown has received only 11% of her funds in contributions of under $200 each. Buehler has received only 10% of his funds in such amounts.
Brown has received 81% of her funds in contributions of $1,000 or more.
Buehler has received 83% of his funds in contributions of $1,000 or more.
Brown has received 66% of her funds in contributions of $5,000 or more.
Buehler has received 74% of his funds in contributions of $5,000 or more.
Brown has received 56% of her funds in contributions of $10,000 or more.
Buehler has received 67% of his funds in contributions of $10,000 or more.
Here is the table:
The previous record for spending by Governor candidates in Oregon was $20 million in 2010. Brown and Buehler have topped $28 million already.
Oregonians need to adopt limits on campaign contributions and requirements that political ads expressly identify their largest funders," said Liz Trojan, one of the chief petitioners on Measure 26-200. Both California and Washington, along with 8 other states, already require that political ads identify their actual funders, not just nice-sounding names of political committees. "Just watch the TV ads in Portland against Washington Measure 1631, and you will see the names of the oil companies in big print. Ads in Oregon have no such information."
Measure 26-200 would limit campaign contributions in races for Portland city offices, including mayor, City Council, and auditor. It would also require ads in those campaigns to list their top 5 funders.
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Oregon is one of only 5 states with no limits on political contributions. Candidates and public officials have become unduly beholden to the special interests able to contribute big money. Campaign spending in Oregon has skyrocketed by a factor of 10 (1,000%) since 1996.
The State Integrity Investigation of the Center for Public Integrity in November 2015 graded Oregon an overall "F" in systems to avoid government corruption. Oregon ranked 2nd worst of the 50 states in control of "Political Financing," beating only Mississippi.
Conversely, the Koch Brothers-funded so-called "Institute for Free Speech" in March 2018 ranked Oregon #1 in America for having the "best" system of campaign finance regulation -- no limits on contributions at all. The corporations and billionaires really like Oregon's system of no limits, because they can use their money to buy politicians.
THE OREGONIAN reported that candidates for the Oregon Legislature raise and spend more in their campaigns, per capita, than in any other state, except New Jersey. In 2014, Oregon House candidates on average spent 80% more than Washington House candidates, even though Washington's districts have more people. The average spent in 2014 by the top 10 Oregon Senate candidates rose to $750,000 each. The average spent in 2016 by the top 10 Oregon House candidates rose to $825,000 each. Some candidates spent over $1 million, over $80 per vote received.
The big money arms race infects local elections. The 2012 winner of Portland's mayorship spent over $1.7 million. His two primary opponents spent $1.4 million and $965,000. The 2016 winner spent $1 million in the primary alone. Most of the money comes from big donors, in chunks as large as $25,000 and even $60,000 per donor. The major corporate donors are typically property developers, construction companies, financial moguls, timber companies, rail contractors, and companies wanting government to pay more of the $1 billion+ tab for the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup.
Portland should join Seattle by adopting limits on political campaign contributions, which are in place for 90% of local governments in the United States. The limits we propose are the same as those adopted by voters in Seattle in 2015: candidates may not receive contributions larger than $500 per donor.
The Corporate Reform Coalition (75 progressive organizations) in 2012 concluded that only 6 states have worse systems for disclosing independent expenditures. They graded Oregon an "F" in disclosure, while Washington earned an "A." Now, 10 states require that political ads identify their top funders, including California and Washington. For 93 years, Oregon had a law requiring that political ads at least identify their sources, but that law was repealed in 2001 by a Republican-majority Legislature and a Democratic Governor.
When Chevron, Inc. attempted to take over the government of the California city of Richmond (population 110,000) by running its hand-picked candidates for the mayorship and city council positions in 2014 (and spending over $3 million to fund their campaigns), all of Chevron's candidates lost--because of the California law that required its ads and brochures and billboards to say: "Major Funder: Chevron, Inc." All their opponents won, despite being outspent by about 50 to one. Voters need this information to judge the credibility of political ads. Oregon voters are in the dark.
For more information, contact:
Honest Elections Portland | 411 S.W. 2nd Avenue | Suite 200 | Portland | Oregon 97204 | 503-548-2797 | firstname.lastname@example.org | honest-elections.com