Oregon’s Secretary of State is not just the state’s chief records keeper, she is, by law, the chief elections official. She not only oversees elections statewide, it’s up to her to see that campaign finance laws are being followed. As the current officeholder, Bev Clarno, noted recently, she believes there’s a better way, and her idea is worth exploring.
Clarno would like to see enforcement of campaign finance laws moved out of her office. Doing so, she believes, would help scotch the notion that the office has a partisan bias about such things.
She’d send potential civil violations of the law — violations that involve such things as circulating petitions improperly — to the state Government Ethics Commission for investigation and fines, if needed.
Criminal violations, which can include things like illegally making changes to voter registration cards, and which can be felonies, would be turned over to the attorney general’s office, again for investigation and prosecution, if required.
Both those agencies are better equipped to investigate potential violations than Clarno’s office is, for one thing. Her office lost two elections investigators in 2011, positions that have never been replaced. Without investigators, the office has only very limited resources to look into potential violations, and as a result some violations have gone undiscovered.
More important, neither of those agencies is charged with overseeing elections, as the Secretary of State is. Moving investigation of ethical and potential criminal violations regarding campaign contributions and spending could help dispel any suggestion that bias plays a role in the Secretary of State’s election oversight, and that’s important.
The Secretary of State can’t make such changes on her own. That’s up to the Legislature. But Clarno’s proposal is certainly worth exploring.