State Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, has some help in his quest to reform campaign finance in Oregon, but whether it will be enough to sway lawmakers remains to be seen.
Brown was re-elected in the most expensive governor’s race in Oregon history. Brown and her Republican challenger, Knute Buehler of Bend, spent a combined $37 million, thanks in part to contributions totaling $2.5 million to Buehler from Nike co-founder Phil Knight.
Golden refused to accept donations from political action committees during his campaign, and he asked Senate President Peter Courtney to create a Campaign Finance Committee, which Golden now chairs. Independent Party of Oregon candidate Patrick Starnes dropped out of the governor’s race and endorsed Brown in exchange for her pledge to support campaign finance reform. Now he has vowed to join with Golden to push for contribution limits.
Brown testified in favor of that at the committee’s first meeting, but it’s clear she intends to continue raising money under the current rules.
The free-speech clause in the state’s constitution is stronger than the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the state Supreme Court in 1997 declared contribution limits unconstitutional. Changing that would require a constitutional amendment.
Unlimited contributions encourage wealthy individuals such as Knight, or organizations such as labor unions and business alliances, to seek to influence elections in Oregon. That leaves ordinary citizens sitting on the sidelines.
Asking people in power to change the rules that helped them get there is always an uphill battle, but it’s one worth fighting.