SALEM — Bend surgeon Knute Buehler’s knack for raising campaign cash can be interpreted two ways.
There’s Oregon political analyst Len Bergstein’s way: “Quality candidates attract contributions when the races are very important.”
And then there’s the interpretation by Craig Wilhelm, Buehler’s Democratic opponent in the race for Bend’s House District 54.
“The candidate matters more, frankly. I‘m the better candidate, I’m the better leader, and that’s how I’m going to win,” Wilhelm said.
What can’t be disputed is that Buehler, a Republican who is also running as the Independent Party nominee, has reported raising more money this year than any other House or Senate candidate in the state, The Bulletin’s review of campaign finance reports has found.
Buehler’s campaign has amassed more than $362,000 in cash contributions and in-kind donations three months before the November election.
Buehler credits his more than 1,000 contributors to his promise to work across the aisle and to focus on Bend issues.
He also has wide name recognition from his unsuccessful run for Secretary of State in 2012.
“People know me, they understand me, they know my background, and I think they like what they see,” he said.
Buehler said he helped write Oregon’s campaign finance reform in the early 1990s before the state Supreme Court ruled against the reforms a few years later.
Two decades later his campaign is bringing in donations, including more than 200 donations worth $25 or less, faster than longtime politicians such as Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek.
The next closest legislative candidate, Republican Vic Gilliam of Silverton, had raised about $110,000 less than Buehler as of Thursday.
“I think the campaign is on a great trajectory,” Buehler said. “There’s lots of ways to evaluate how a campaign is going, and certainly fundraising is one.”
Wilhelm, for his part, has reported collecting an above-average $65,800 in 2014, which he says shows people recognize him as a leader who will focus on Central Oregon issues while working in Salem.
Still, the funding disadvantage means Wilhelm is running what he called a lean, efficient campaign.
Wilhelm is also running as a moderate Democrat who says he has a laserlike focus on Bend’s high unemployment rate, creating jobs and improving schools.
Wilhelm’s campaign has found the support of Silicon Valley investor Arthur Rock and another California donor for $10,000 combined. Out-of-state donations to the Wilhelm campaign make up about a third of his total contributions this year, according to a review of campaign finance documents on the Secretary of State’s website. About $14,650 of Buehler’s money has come from outside Oregon.
Other politicians’ campaigns, PACs and unions have also supported Wilhelm’s campaign, which he attributes to supporters’ belief that he is the best candidate in the race to replace Republican Rep. Jason Conger in the Capitol.
“We have a huge groundswell and broad spectrum of individual supporters from across Oregon and in Bend,” Wilhelm said.
Democrats and Republicans have their eye on the race in Bend, which is considered one of a handful of competitive legislative races as Republicans hope to chip away at the Democrats’ four-seat House majority.
The candidates showcased widespread similarities during a debate before the Bend Chamber of Commerce in early August, and the two are working to schedule more debates before the election, Wilhelm said.
— Reporter: 406-589-4347,