Oregon Democrats have come out hard for “substantial regulation” of political spending in Oregon. They are, of course, citing the evil corporations and rich guys who pour funds into local campaigns and who, in their collective opinion, should be stopped.
What the resolution approved by the state party’s central committee fails to mention is this: Campaign finance limits are a boon to the woman — or man — already in office, and are particularly tough on political newcomers.
Running for governor, or any other statewide office, means, in Oregon, getting your name and message out over some 98,466 square miles. If you’ve been a senator from Bend or a county commissioner from Josephine County, just letting voters know you’re running and what you stand for is grueling, expensive and time consuming.
If, however, you’re a former secretary of state or attorney general, the job’s much easier. It’s easier still when, as secretary of state, you’re appointed to fill the term of a governor who resigned from office in disgrace. Just ask Gov. Kate Brown.
The same is true on a local level. The city councilor in office has a major leg up on the unknown who might hope to capture his or her seat.
Money can change that. It buys lawn signs, advertising and most of everything else that goes into a successful campaign. It’s critical to introducing the newbie to a constituency that knows the three-term incumbent but almost nothing about the opponent.
Many of Oregon’s incumbents also have another purely financial advantage that Democrats would rather not talk about. Public employee unions are reliable donors of both money and time to Democratic candidates, and Republicans must look elsewhere to make up that difference.
Oregon may be an outlier when it comes to limiting campaign contributions, but that needn’t be a bad thing. State leaders of all political stripes should push to make the state a leader in campaign finance openness so that voters can tell, quickly, who actually is giving what to whom.