More Than $70 Million Was Spent by Political Donors in Oregon’s Race for Governor

More Than $70 Million: Supporters of the top three candidates in the Oregon governor’s election spent more than $70 million trying to assist their chosen candidate win, an increase of nearly 89% from the previous governor’s campaign.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tina Kotek raised more money than her Republican and independent opponents combined ($30,1 million over 23 months), and she promptly spent almost all of it.

With $22.6 million in contributions and $22.5 million in expenditures, Republican Christine Drazan, the former House GOP leader, came in at a distant second.

Betsy Johnson, a long-serving Democrat in the state legislature who is now an independent candidate, brought in $17.5 million and spent $17.8 million.

More Than $70 Million Was Spent by Political Donors in Oregon’s Race for Governor

By Tuesday morning, the three had reported spending a total of $70.3 million since January 2021, as detailed in documents submitted to the Oregon Secretary of State.

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Furthermore, independent spending in the race shows Kotek to be the clear winner. According to an analysis of state campaign finance records by The Oregonian/OregonLive, political action committees primarily funded by public employee unions and the Democratic Governors Association spent more than $940,000 on ads that portrayed Kotek in a positive light and attacked Johnson and Drazan.

While Oregon Right to Life and other PACs appear to have spent around $28,000 on independent expenditures to aid Drazan and attack Kotek, records reveal that other PACs spent much less.

Any coordination between an independent expenditure and a candidate’s campaign is illegal in Oregon. Oregonians for Ethics and Hold Politicians Accountable, two of the PACs who spent significantly to attack Drazan and Johnson, gave “in-kind contributions” to Kotek’s campaign totaling more than $600,000. This money was spent on coordinated political advertising.

More Than $70 Million Was Spent by Political Donors in Oregon's Race for Governor
More Than $70 Million Was Spent by Political Donors in Oregon’s Race for Governor

The Democratic Governors Association contributed $6.7 million to Kotek’s campaign, making it his greatest single donor. The Service Employees International Union’s local, state and federal affiliates contributed a total of $3.1 million.

According to Melissa Unger, executive director of Service Employees International Union Local 503, “Tina Kotek was the sole pro-worker candidate for Oregon governor,” therefore the union put a lot of resources into attempting to get her elected and against Johnson and Drazan.

Unger said that Kotek “has a track record of delivering for working families” by doing things like increasing the minimum wage, investing heavily in-home care, increasing health care access, safeguarding workers’ rights, and tackling climate change. Beyond her legislative victories, her support for employees is unwavering. She is there both on the picket line and in negotiations on behalf of the workers. Tina is of the opinion that unions and the right to speak up for workers are necessities.
The governor of Oregon negotiates labor agreements with the unions representing state workers, but state lawmakers determine the budgetary allocations that will be used to pay for things like salary rises, health care, and other benefits.

For advocates of campaign finance reform, the startling amount spent in the governor’s race is fresh evidence of the compelling need for the state to set restrictions. Oregon is one of five states that now allow unrestricted political donations.

Did Oregon’s gubernatorial election receive twice as much support from voters after spending double what it did in 2022? Did we obtain twice as much information to see if anyone really cared? Oregon League of Women Voters president Rebecca Gladstone disagreed. To “restrict campaign contributions and identify where that money truly originates from,” as Gladstone, a lead petitioner on a proposed 2024 ballot proposal to do, put it, the League of Women Voters of Oregon “stands even more firmly.”

Gladstone and other good governance advocates wanted to have measures on the ballot this November that would have allowed voters to decide whether to ban campaign contributions. However, Democratic Secretary of State Shemia Fagan decided in February that the initiatives could not be put on the ballot because they did not contain the full text of the state statutes they would modify.

Contribution limitations are supported by Common Cause Oregon and other good government groups because “every election, spending climbs dramatically,” as stated by Common Cause Oregon’s executive director Kate Titus. In the absence of our intervention, it will continue to do so. Limits, transparency, and matching funding to make low-budget campaigns competitive are all proven measures for reducing the corrupting influence of money in politics. It’s high time that legislators in Oregon make this a reality.

While Democrats have held statewide office and legislative majorities for the past decade, including Kotek’s stint as speaker, they have not made donation limitations a priority. However, on the campaign trail this autumn, Kotek indicated that as governor she will work for lawmakers to establish limitations, and if they fail, she will back a referendum measure to impose limits. To ensure that individual donors like Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who tends to support the Republican party, face strict limits while allowing public employee unions to continue donating millions of dollars to a single candidate, Democrats have proposed contribution limit proposals with loopholes in the past.

Through a spokesperson, Kotek declined to comment regarding why it was required for her campaign to spend so much to accomplish a 3.5-percentage point win and whether she has any worries about the high expense of gubernatorial races. In an October campaign event where Kotek announced she would prioritize some type of campaign finance reforms as governor, she emphasized Knight’s role as a wealthy donor. For this election, “only one individual” is our opponent, Kotek remarked. If billionaires and special interests were not able to spend substantially, β€œthis election would be quite different.”

Voters in Oregon adopted donation restrictions in 2006, but for several years the limits were unenforceable due to legal challenges claiming they infringed free speech rights.

The Supreme Court of Oregon reversed itself in 2020 and found those donation limitations are legal under the state Constitution. However, Democratic Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum found that the limits imposed by voters in 2006 remain unenforceable. Rosenblum, whose staff provided the legal opinion to the secretary of state verbally rather than in writing, has failed to elaborate on her reasoning behind this belief.

In addition to the Oregon Democratic Party and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Kotek received significant financial support from the Stand for Children Oregon organization.

The Republican Governors Association donated $7.2 million to Drazan’s campaign, followed by Knight’s $1.5 million and the Oregon Republican Party’s $972,000. Oregon timber mill owner Swanson Group donated $600,000 to Drazan’s campaign, and the Oregon Realtors PAC spent $584,000.

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Johnson’s fundraising efforts demonstrate how her entry into the contest weakened Drazan’s relationship with Republican funders. Even though Knight provided $3.75 million to Johnson, he eventually flipped his support to Drazan in the fall when it became clear that Johnson’s popularity was waning among voters.

More than $1 million was donated to Johnson’s campaign by the PapΓ© Group of heavy machinery dealers, while $789,000 was donated by Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle. One of the largest timber producers in the United States, California-based Sierra Pacific Industries, donated more than $500,000 to Johnson’s campaign, and marine services company Sause Bros. gave Johnson $400,000 in support.

Between the campaigns’ direct spending and independent expenditures for and against candidates, campaigns and political action committees spent around $34 for each vote Kotek snatched, $27 for each vote that Drazan received, and $107 for each vote Johnson got.

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