The 2019 Legislature attempted campaign finance reform by referring Senate Joint Resolution 18 to voters, who will decide its fate in November 2020.
It’s seriously flawed. If, as Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told a U.S. Senate panel Wednesday, Oregon’s current campaign finance rules make the state the “wild, wild West” of political spending, this measure would only make matters worse.
SJR 18 doesn’t establish limits itself. Instead, it allows the state, cities, counties, hospital, library and other districts both to set their own limits on donations and write their own rules regarding disclosure of who is giving what to whom. Further, it allows each of those districts to write campaign spending rules.
Talk about a wild, wild West approach to campaign finance.
Just imagine: Bend sets strict limits on how much donors can give to City Council candidates; Redmond opts for no limits at all. Bend also limits what candidates can spend, a figure that can be completely arbitrary and bear no relation to the cost of reaching the electorate in any reasonable way. Redmond, again, sets no limits at all. And while Bend requires immediate and full disclosure of who is donating, Redmond doesn’t address the issue.
Meanwhile, Deschutes County comes up with a third set of contribution, spending and disclosure limits. And the Legislature, in its wisdom, comes up with yet another set of limits for state House and Senate races.
Just thinking about it makes one dizzy. A better approach remains one that beefs up donor and spending disclosure, making both more immediate.
Disclosure aside, it’s not clear limits would actually keep corporate and out-of-state donations in check. Businesses and individuals with big pocketbooks and a big desire to influence elections will, if history is any indication, simply find a new way to go about trying to do so. At least with quick and full disclosure rules in place, Oregonians have a better chance to tell what’s going on.