SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown and GOP frontrunner Knute Buehler are neck-and-neck in their fundraising race for the 2018 campaign to be the state’s next chief executive.

Brown released a month’s worth of fundraising records on Monday, showing she has regained the advantage over Buehler in money-gathering for the governor’s race. Buehler has chosen to report his contributions as they have come in. Both methods are allowed by state election rules.

The biggest number is $3 million — the amount the two campaigns combined have in the bank. This year alone, Buehler has raised $1.49 million to $1.46 million for Brown.

The biggest difference has been on spending: Brown has used just under $1 million, while Buehler has spent just $262,000.

Both campaigns said they were happy with the blizzard of money coming in.

“Our fundraising is stronger than ever,” said Thomas Wheatley, Brown’s campaign manager. “We have more than 12,000 contributions this year alone.”

Buehler sent social media messages to supporters thanking them for their contributions.

“This is the battle for the future of our state,” Buehler wrote in a recent campaign email, adding that he was the underdog in financing. “Kate Brown has been raising money for her campaign for over a year and I’m working to catch up, but I need your help — today.”

The biggest splash so far has been the $500,000 contribution on Aug. 14 from Nike CEO Phil Knight to Buehler. In one sweep of his pen on a check, Knight closed the fundraising gap between Buehler and Brown by half. Since that time, Buehler’s campaign has raised $1 million more, keeping rough parity with Brown.

Secretary of State Dennis Richardson and House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, have both been approached by conservative activists seeking an alternative to Buehler, who is considered a moderate in the GOP. Both said they listened, but have announced they will stick with their current jobs for now.

Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer, a conservative who created an exploratory committee to gauge support for a run for governor, said Monday that she would not enter the race against Buehler.

Knight’s big, early bet on Buehler makes it expensive for any other Republican without statewide name recognition to jump into the race, especially with Buehler having raked in over $1 million above his biggest benefactor’s check.

But anything is possible in Oregon when it comes to campaign finance. There are virtually no rules against unlimited amounts of money being contributed. While Knight’s contribution to Buehler is the largest single amount ever given to an individual by an individual, it still ranks no more than 73rd all time, a position it shares with two dozen other one-time $500,000 contributions. Contributions from businesses and labor unions to ballot measures dwarf Knight’s largesse to Buehler. Political Action Committee contributions to a candidate have also been bigger.

The largest single contribution is the $4.46 million that DuPont Pioneer gave in one chunk to the No on 92 campaign in 2014. That measure, which would have required labeling of products using genetically modified organisms, was defeated by less than 900 votes out of 1.5 million cast.

If Buehler can win the Republican primary in May and keep financial pace with Brown, the 2018 governor’s race could top the record $16 million raised and spent by John Kitzhaber and Chris Dudley in 2010.

The biggest single donation to a candidate is the $1.5 million given in October 2010 from the Republican Governors Association to Dudley in his 2010 race against Kitzhaber. Dudley lost by just under 23,000 votes out of 1.45 million cast. It was among a handful of close races in the past 35 years in which a Republican has failed to win the governor’s job.

Brown has not yet received the kind of outsized check of the size of Knight’s, but is consistently pulling in five-figure amounts. The largest so far was a $75,000 contribution from the Laborer’s Political League of Washington, D.C.

Past contributors to Brown and Buehler have yet to be heard from. Brown received $250,000 in 2016 from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire who has supported candidates who favor gun control. The majority — though not all — of Buehler’s votes on the issue have come down on the side of gun owners, which the state Democratic Party underlined in a media release after the Las Vegas mass-shooting. A Bloomberg re-investment in Brown, especially if the race tightens, would be something to watch for.

Buehler, in comparison to Brown, has a shorter and smaller history of contributions. Knight gave $50,000 to his unsuccessful 2012 campaign to unseat then-Secretary of State Kate Brown. But Buehler’s biggest contributor outside of Knight is retired business executive James Young, the former CEO of Entek Manufacturing, based in Lebanon. Buehler has said Young is “a longtime family friend.” According to state records, Young has contributed $245,000 to various Buehler campaigns since the 2012 race.

— Reporter: 541-525-5280, gwarner@bendbulletin.com

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