It may have been a fluke, but the Oregon Elections Division apparently gave a recent complaint about improper use of campaign donations only the most cursory look. The result is that a former state representative, Deborah Boone, D-Cannon Beach, may have broken Oregon campaign finance law and paid no price for the violation.
If that’s true, it’s time for a change.
Boone apparently acted as a conduit for donors who wished to give money to candidates running for public office but didn’t wish to be identified in public records. In 2018 they made donations to Boone, she told The Oregonian, who in turn passed the money on to a candidate running to replace her in the state Legislature and to a candidate for the Columbia County Commission.
One of the donors was the husband of state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose; the other was the Oregon Health Care Association. John Helm, Johnson’s husband, denied giving Boone instructions about what to do with the money, and the health care association denied asking that the money be passed on.
The state Elections Division “investigated” the matter. It sent a letter to Boone that apparently asked if the allegations were true. She said “no,” and that ended that, though the agency could have issued subpoenas and explored the matter further, had it chosen to do so.
All of which raises serious questions about the state’s commitment to tracking donations and punishing those who violate Oregon law. If Oregonians are to trust that their elections are honest, they must also trust that state officials are investigating alleged misdeeds thoroughly. That’s true whether the state’s laws place relatively few limits on donors or place tight limits on them.
Oregon has worked hard to boost voter participation in elections. If those same voters think the system is somehow rigged, and slipshod investigations can give that impression, all that work is likely to go to waste.