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Candidates in Oregon Can Receive Unlimited Funds from Individual Donors

Contributors to candidates in Tuesday's primary election have no limit on how much they can give. (Chris Phan/flickr user clipdude)
Contributors to candidates in Tuesday's primary election have no limit on how much they can give. (Chris Phan/flickr user clipdude)
May 16, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. – Candidates running for office in Oregon's primary on Tuesday can receive an unlimited amount of campaign contributions from individual donors.

Despite voters twice in the last two decades passing initiatives to limit contributions, Oregon's Supreme Court has ruled money caps unconstitutional.

Norman Turrill is head of Oregon's League of Women Voters, and was part of a task force on campaign finance reform set up by the legislature. He maintains large contributions can be a way to buy influence.

"The contributions might be tens of thousand of dollars at times, and that would get the attention of any candidate, usually," he points out.

The task force advised state lawmakers to amend the constitution to allow limits, if voters passed another measure.

Oregon is one of only six holdout states without a ceiling on individual contributions.

Setting limits to contributions may be only one piece of the campaign finance reform puzzle. Turrill says reform to rein in the influence of big money should come in three parts.

Along with contribution caps, he says campaigns should disclose donations, and governments should help finance elections so that small donations are amplified.

"It's kind of a three-legged stool,” he states. “Without one of those three legs, the system becomes unstable and eventually the voters lose interest or the system falls over."

Turrill says the league is advocating for a public finance system like New York City's, in which the city matches every dollar contributed from small donors with another six dollars.

If limits are set in Oregon, Turrill says public financing could be an important tool to combat so-called dark money, or non-profit groups that circumvent contribution caps, thereby allowing individuals and corporations to donate unlimited funds.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR