On March 18, the Oregon Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch push for voters to decide whether or not to limit campaign contributions to candidates for public office.
Proponents of three proposed ballot initiatives had sought High Court intervention to ensure the measures were presented to voters in November.
Last month, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan rejected ballot measures that would limit the amount of money individuals, unions and political action committees could donate to candidates or political action committees, a created a new public funding system and required that all political ads include disclaimers about who paid for them.
Fagan said the proposed measures failed to meet a technical requirement set out in a 2004 court ruling that petitioners include the full text of the state law they seek to change. They could have refiled their petitions and started the long process to get to the ballot again, but instead asked the Supreme Court to overturn Fagan.
Supporters needed to collect more than 112,000 signatures by July 8 to participate in the November ballot.
The measures were being pursued by a coalition of good government groups led by Jason Kafoury, a Portland attorney who co-founded Honest Elections Oregon; Rebecca Gladstone, president of the League of Women Voters, and James Ofsink, president of advocacy group Portland Forward.
In a five-page notice, the court wrote that supporters of the petitions could have avoided any problems by starting earlier.
“This is not a case in which exceptional circumstances persuade us that the issue raised (by petition supporters) is so novel and important, and that immediate resolution is so imperative, that we should exercise our discretionary mandamus jurisdiction on an expedited basis,” the notice reads.
Fagan welcomed the court’s opinion, saying the petitioners chose to file their motion “at the eleventh hour.”
“Whether by legislators or through the process of public initiative, making laws takes time, and the Constitution establishes the rule of law,” she said in a statement. “There is no shortcut.”
Kafoury said people filing initiatives need more clarity on what to include. While Fagan, who took office last year, has consistently rejected petitions that don’t include the full text of all laws affected by a petition, former secretaries of state weren’t as strict.
While awaiting court, campaign finance reform advocates will also begin work on the 2024 ballot measures and continue to press for action from the Oregon Legislature.
“It’s a sad day for our local democracy,” Kafoury said. “That means millionaires and billionaires will continue to write six- and seven-figure checks, but hopefully we’ll fix that in the next two years.”
Oregon is one of five states with no campaign contribution limits, and it results in some of the most expensive political races in the country. Critics say it gives big donors, including the wealthy and unions, too much power over the election.
Governor Kate Brown and her Republican opponent spent more than $40 million campaigning for governor in 2018. This year, with no incumbent and a likely three-way general election, gubernatorial candidates are expected to spend much more.
The money continued to flow through Oregon’s political system. As voters and political activists have begun to pay more attention to elected offices like school boards and district attorneys in recent years, the money has followed, according to Gladstone.
For example, two candidates for district attorney in Washington County spent more than $1 million on the race in 2018. That office is on the ballot again this year, and Gladstone said that it would be just as controversial this year.
The three initiatives proposed by Gladstone, Kafoury and Ofsink are among six campaign finance initiatives introduced at the end of last year.
Oregon voters in 2020 overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state Constitution to allow state and local governments to set campaign contribution and spending limits and otherwise regulate campaign funding. countryside. Efforts by some lawmakers in 2021 to limit contributions have come to nothing, and a coalition of unions, advocacy groups that generally support Democratic politicians and nonpartisan good government groups have spent months discussing the campaign finance limits.
In early December, Kafoury, Gladstone and Ofsink tabled their proposals, planning to submit just one to voters after polls showed which was more popular. Two weeks later, unions tabled three separate proposals that would limit corporate contributions, but had fewer restrictions on membership groups like unions and had less enforcement of campaign finance violations.
Supporters of the union-backed measures have yet to collect the 1,000 signatures they need for state officials to consider the measures. Only after a proposed ballot initiative obtains an initial 1,000 voter signatures and is approved by the Secretary of State and Attorney General can petitioners begin collecting all 112,000 petition signatures. needed to vote.
When Fagan rejected all three initiatives in the 2022 legislative session, Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, attempted to replicate parts of the proposals in an amendment to a bill before the committee. which he presides. That effort was quickly scrapped, and Wagner told the Oregon Capital Chronicle that he still hoped to see campaign finance limits make it to the ballot in November.
“If we don’t do that, then I think it’s absolutely the responsibility of lawmakers to do that and send something to voters,” he said. “We will see what happens in this election cycle, but we cannot give up on this. Voters are very clear that they expect reform.
House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, also said at the end of the legislative session that he intended to push for campaign finance reform in the 2023 Legislature.
“When we got this news in the middle of the session, there was no way to really articulate what kind of momentum you need and thread the needle on a topic that, frankly, all 90 members have a different opinion of what it should look like,” he said. “We’ve been trying to do this for years to try to do this.”
Oregon Capital Chronicle (oregoncapitalchronicle.com) is a nonprofit, professional news organization focused on in-depth and helpful reporting on Oregon state government, politics and politics.