Not only are this year’s Bend-La Pine School Board races more politically charged than ever — they’re also more expensive.
The eight candidates have raised about $136,600 combined in cash and in-kind contributions as recently as Wednesday for the election on Tuesday, according to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office.
More than half of that total — about $70,000 — comes from two sources who exclusively supported Republican-endorsed candidates: Redmond-based political action committee United 4 Education and Bend resident Dennis Dauenhauer.
For comparison, in the 2019 board election, two candidates, Andy High and Shimiko Montgomery, raised about $40,000 combined about a week before the election. That was far more than any other candidates that year.
Meanwhile, candidate Maria Lopez-Dauenhauer alone has received nearly $44,600 in contributions this year, as of Wednesday. And only about 13% of her contributions come from sources who aren’t Dennis Dauenhauer or the United 4 Education PAC.
United 4 Education, based out of Redmond, donated $10,163.57 to each of the four Republican-endorsed candidates as of Wednesday: Lopez-Dauenhauer, Jon Haffner, Gregg Henton and Wendy Imel.
On its website, United 4 Education states its focus points include academic excellence, accountability to taxpayers, students and parents, and “taking politics out of classrooms.”
Andrea Davidson, the president of United 4 Education, could not immediately be reached for comment.
All contributions to Bend-La Pine School Board candidates from United 4 Education were in-kind contributions. That means money was not sent directly to the candidate’s campaign, but the PAC instead spent its money to campaign on behalf of that candidate. The candidate does not have to approve in-kind contributions, but must list them on the Oregon Secretary of State’s campaign finance website next to cash contributions.
The approximately $27,600 contribution from Dennis Dauenhauer to Lopez-Dauenhauer was also an in-kind contribution, but his $1,000 contributions to Imel and Haffner were cash. He did not donate to Henton’s fund at all.
Donations to PACs are also listed on the Oregon Secretary of State website, and the largest donor to United 4 Education is a business entity called the Dauenhauer Living Trust, which poured $15,000 into the PAC.
Lopez-Dauenhauer did not respond to multiple requests for comment, so The Bulletin could not confirm whether the Dauenhauer Living Trust donations were her family’s money, and whether Dennis Dauenhauer is related to her. But both donors have the same Bend address that Lopez-Dauenhauer listed on her campaign filing.
Other notable donations to United 4 Education include $5,000 from Bend resident and construction manager John Weisner, $4,000 from Pahlisch Homes staffer Jonna Pahlisch, $1,000 from private social club The Loft of Bend, $250 from Pahlisch Homes and $200 from Adair Homes owner Hugh Adair III.
Meanwhile, another PAC — Bend-based Strengthening Central Oregon — has made in-kind and cash contributions exclusively to the Democrat-endorsed slate of candidates. But it spent much less: Carrie McPherson Douglass, Janet Sarai Llerandi and Shirley Olson each received in-kind contributions of $1,934.80 from the PAC, as of Wednesday. Marcus LeGrand received $2,934.80 in cash and in-kind contributions.
The president of Strengthening Central Oregon — which began donating to candidates right before the fall 2020 election — is McPherson Douglass herself. Her husband, Scott Douglass, is also on the PAC’s board.
However, both of them recused themselves from the endorsement and contribution processes for Bend-La Pine School Board races this year, McPherson Douglass told The Bulletin.
The vast majority of contributions from Strengthening Central Oregon — all but $1,000 in cash to LeGrand — were in-kind contributions, meaning McPherson Douglass did not formally accept any contributions from the PAC, she said.
Although their endorsements line up with the Democrats’, Strengthening Central Oregon is nonpartisan, McPherson Douglass said. Every candidate from every party and political stance is invited to apply for its support, she said.
“We would like to have candidates from across the political spectrum,” she said.
This year, Strengthening Central Oregon received $1,000 each from Worthy Brewing owner Roger Worthington, Worthy Brewing itself, Brooks Resources Chairman Michael Hollern, and Tykeson Family Foundation managing trustee Amy Tykeson.
Other public figures to donate to the PAC in 2021 include Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel ($500), Bend City Councilor Anthony Broadman ($500), Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Chang ($250) and Central Oregon Community College board member Bruce Abernethy ($200).
The trend of many local public figures making small donations to Democrat-endorsed candidates, and a few nonelected officials making large donations to Republican-endorsed candidates, is consistent when looking at the non-PAC donations to the eight candidates.
For example, LeGrand received many comparatively small donations, some from local elected officials such as Bend city councilors Melanie Kebler and Megan Perkins — along with the campaign of Broadman — and some from current Bend-La Pine board members Melissa Barnes Dholakia, McPherson Douglass and the campaign of Caroline Skidmore.
But the only contributions over $500 to LeGrand came from the Strengthening Central Oregon and Oregon Education Association PACs. The latter gave him $1,000 in cash.
Skidmore and Broadman, either personally or through their campaigns, also donated to McPherson Douglass, Llerandi and Olson.
The largest individual donation to a Democrat-endorsed candidate was from Bend resident Lawrence Hatch, who donated $9,500 to McPherson Douglass. He did not donate to any other Bend-La Pine candidates.
Meanwhile — with the exception of a few small donations — the same handful of big donors pop up for the four Republican-endorsed candidates.
Mark Koehler, Bend resident and owner of Koehler Aviation, donated $2,000 to each of the four Republican-endorsed candidates. Fellow Bend resident Rachel Freed, owner of Rachel Freed Photography, donated $1,000 to Lopez-Dauenhauer, Haffner and Henton, and $4,000 to Imel.