The 2018 Oregon Democrat and Republican gubernatorial candidates have raked in over $23 million in combined campaign contributions, the most in Oregon’s history.
Incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown netted funds from Michael Bloomberg’s gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, the pro-choice political action committee Emily’s List and Nike. Republican challenger Representative Knute Buehler gained financial support from Pape Group and Phil Knight whose $1.5 million donation made Oregon history as the most ever donated by an individual to a campaign. Both candidates have considerable backing from their party’s Governors Associations and in the last week alone have raised over a million dollars combined.
Independent candidate Patrick Starnes, a Brownsville cabinet maker with an unassuming appearance and kind demeanor, is running on the primary platform of campaign finance reform and has limited donations to $100 per person, which, according to the Secretary of State’s website, leaves his contribution total at slightly more than $6000.
“I believe strongly in the Constitution and our freedom of speech, yet we have a problem with the loud volume! Wealthy, large donors, corporations and huge special interests are drowning out the regular person’s freedom of speech,” Starnes said. “Corporations are not people. Voters are people. And voters need to be the only donors.”
Oregon is one of five states that allows unlimited campaign donations from individuals, corporations and political action committees. In 2006, Oregonians voted on two ballot measures. Measure 46–which would have allowed an amendment to the state Constitution to limit financial donations to candidates– and Measure 47, which detailed those limitations. While Measure 46 failed, Measure 47 passed. However, without voter approval for constitutional amendment, measure 47 could not be implemented.
In 2012, during her Secretary of State re-election campaign, Brown came out in support of finance reform and proclaimed that she would limit spending on her campaign to $1 million. Her opponent in that race, Buehler, stated he was in support of reform, however he did not institute any financial limits for his election campaign and was heavily criticized by his opponent for his decision.
Starnes reported that being the only candidate in the race who has limited donations has given his competitors an advantage, calling it “a chicken and egg scenario.”
“Big money in politics,” Starnes said, limits voters to the choice between “Pepsi and Coke,” manipulating the democratic process but “without big money to support your campaign, voters don’t know they could choose root beer.”
In addition to his promise of campaign finance reform within the first 100 days in office, Starnes has also called into question the legal definition of “campaign contribution.” He has filed a complaint with the Secretary of State’s office against both Brown and Buehler, citing a 2017 Oregon legislative decision which clarifies the difference between a “promotion” and “media event.”
Starnes was in attendance for the first gubernatorial debate on Oct. 2 and requested a seat at the next two, but the host television studios declined. In his complaint, Starnes claims that his exclusion from the final two debates was essentially a promotion of the other candidates and thereby constitutes a campaign contribution which neither Brown nor Buehler reported within 30 days, a requirement of Oregon’s campaign finance law.
Both Brown and Buehler have faced claims of ethics violations for non-disclosure of finances in the past. As recently as last week the Oregon Republican Party has called for an investigation into Brown’s campaign spending. The GOP claim cites an investigatory report of the governor’s finances and a newly surfaced video in which former campaign manager Michael Kolenc alleges he was fired under unlawful pretenses. In 2017, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission found that Buehler had failed to disclose $12,500in payments he received while on the board of the St. Charles Health System in 2013. Buehler called the claim “politically motivated” and reduced the violation to “an inadvertent filing error.” He agreed to accept a “letter of education” and amended his 2014 Statement of Economic Interest.
If Secretary of State Dennis Richardson finds standing in Starnes’ claim both Brown and Buehler could face a fine. Penalties and fines levied are ultimately determined by the Government Ethics Commision.
On Saturday Oct. 13, prior to their official endorsement of Buehler, the Oregonian invited all three candidates to participate in a Governor Endorsement Meeting. In the meeting Starnes called for his opponents to discuss campaign finance reform.
“These Nike endorsements are ridiculous,” he said.
Both Brown and Buehler conceded that campaign finance reform will be necessary to maintain the integrity of the democratic process. At this Starnes requested that Brown and Buehler shake hands, symbolizing a gentlemen’s agreement to move toward constitutional amendment that will institute campaign finance contribution limits.