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Struggle Continues to Set OR Campaign Contribution Limits

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Oregon has the most expensive elections in the country, according to one campaign finance expert. (Helistockter/Adobe Stock)
Oregon has the most expensive elections in the country, according to one campaign finance expert. (Helistockter/Adobe Stock)
 By Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR - Producer, Contact
January 31, 2020

SALEM, Ore. - Oregon is among a handful of states with no limits on campaign contributions in elections. The 2020 session offers lawmakers another chance to change that.

Senate Bill 1524 would cap donations from individuals to candidates for state office at $750, and $15,000 from committees, including political parties. The limit for statewide offices, such as governor, would be $2,000 dollars from individuals and $40,000 from committees.

Dan Meek, an attorney and campaign finance expert, says the bill is better than past attempts.

"Oregon politicians have so little experience with limits on contributions, they don't know how to write a bill to limit them," says Meek. "In other states where they already have limits, they understand how they work and what the loopholes are."

Meek says Oregon has the most expensive races in the country - and legislative candidates are raising ten times more than they did two decades ago.

The Oregon legislative session begins on Monday.

Meek says 2018 gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler received the third-largest contribution for any race in United States' history. That was from former Nike CEO Phil Knight for $2.5 million.

Together, Buehler and Gov. Kate Brown raised $37 million in the race, more than twice the previous record in Oregon.

Meek sees campaigns without donor limits as "arms races."

"It's bizarre that Oregon politicians are so heavily dependent on large contributions," says Meek. "They take contributions here that would, of course, be criminal in 45 other states."

He thinks the best shot at campaign finance reform is a constitutional amendment allowing limits that is being referred to voters in November.

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