In landmark vote, Oregon lawmakers approve campaign finance limits – Oregon Public Broadcasting

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FILE: Oregon state Senate floor, March 1, 2024, at the Oregon state Capitol in Salem, Ore.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB
A bill to cap political giving in the state easily cleared the Oregon Senate on Thursday, in a landmark vote that could reshape how campaigns are run in the state.
With a 22-6 vote, senators sent House Bill 4024 on to Gov. Tina Kotek, who has indicated she will sign it.
Once fully implemented, the bill will limit how much individuals, businesses, labor groups and others can contribute to candidates. Those limits vary widely, depending on the entity writing the checks.
At its most basic level, the bill caps contributions from individuals at $3,300, on par with federal limits. Committees formed by labor unions and nonprofits created by business and advocacy groups would have far higher limits.
The proposal also would create a new system for forcing disclosure of “independent expenditures,” money that is spent in support of a candidate without the candidate’s knowledge or blessing. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled such spending amounts to free speech, and cannot be limited.
Thursday’s vote, in what appeared likely to be the session’s last day, capped a remarkably swift path to passage for the campaign finance bill. After years of inaction on the issue, lawmakers were not expected to take it up seriously during this year’s five-week session.
That changed when prolific campaign donors in business and labor began negotiating a possible deal behind the scenes. Both groups were wary of a far stricter campaign finance proposal making its way toward the ballot. Labor unions had already filed their own competing measure, and were prepping for a potentially bruising fight.
Instead the business and labor representatives began sketching out a plan that could find broad buy-in from Democrats and Republicans, along with the good government groups that have pushed stringent limits and were eyeing the ballot.
On Tuesday, after marathon negotiations mediated by House Majority Leader Julie Fahey’s office, they succeeded.
The broad support for HB 4024 was not a reflection that lawmakers liked the bill. Many who voted for it suggested they were doing so only because they feared voters passing a far more restrictive measure in November.
“I frankly resent the implication that I can be bought and paid for,” state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner, D-Portland, who is running for state treasurer, said before the Senate vote. “Generally speaking, that is not the Oregon way.”
Steiner supported HB 4024, she said, because it was “better than either of the ballot measures that was proposed for this November’s election. And it is better for Oregonians not to have millions of dollars go into promoting competing ballot measures and just confusing them further.”
Not everyone was won over. Sen Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, has repeatedly introduced bills to create campaign finance limits. But he said that the limits in HB 4024 still allow big money to flow to campaigns, and that the system being proposed is too convoluted.
“After waiting six sessions to vote on campaign finance reform, I cast my no vote today with real sadness,” Golden said. “I hope we have opportunities down the line to give Oregonians something much closer to what they want in campaign finance reform.”
Golden was the lone Democrat to vote against the bill, joining Republican Sens. Daniel Bonham, Brian Boquist, Cedric Hayden, Dennis Linthicum, and Art Robinson.
Oregon lawmakers have reached a deal that appears likely to give state campaign finance limits for the first time in decades.
Oregon lawmakers already had a big agenda to tackle in the short legislative session, but a surprise wrinkle entered the fray.
The Coalition for Safe, Healthy and Prosperous Communities doesn’t disclose donors but has spent big to help Republicans.
Portland’s campaign financing program doesn’t have enough money to operate at full capacity ahead of a historic election year.
Tags: Politics, Oregon Legislature
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