Oregon apparently won’t get strict — or even loose — limits on political giving this legislative session. Instead, voters may get something that’s even worse, a proposed constitutional amendment that could create a tangled mess even worse than the “problem” it’s supposed to solve.
Lawmakers didn’t get serious about House Bill 2714 until late May, though it got a first reading in mid-January. While it theoretically limited campaign contributions to $2,800 for statewide candidates and less for House and Senate candidates, its loopholes would have put political parties and candidates for federal office in the campaign finance catbird seat, with the right to give unlimited amounts of money to the candidates of their choosing. That bill seems dead.
More likely to make it through the Legislature and to the voters is Senate Joint Resolution 18, sponsored by Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, and others. Unfortunately, it’s no better than HB 2714.
The measure looks good at first glance. It’s a constitutional amendment that would give the governing body of any “city, county, municipality or district” with the power to enact governing ordinances to set its own campaign finance rules.
Thus, the city of Bend apparently could decide that campaigns for City Council would be financed at taxpayer expense, with a fee tacked on for that purpose. Irrigation districts and library districts each could have different rules. Counties could have yet a third set of limits and rules for financing campaigns, and school districts, a fourth. You get the idea.
Ultimately, that could mean a would-be donor in Bend, for example, might have to learn the rules for the county, city, school district and, perhaps, the library district if he or she hoped to support candidates and stay on the right side of the law.
There’s a better way, both at the state and local levels. Beef up campaign finance reporting rules and make public who is giving how much to whom as quickly as possible. In this age of the internet and computers, surely such information could be public within a matter of hours, not days or weeks. That, rather than a mishmash of rules, it is the best way to shed light on what gifts politicians are receiving, and from whom.