OP/ED: Outsider Money Swamps Local Political Race

By Cheryl Johnson
Astoria, Oregon – Oregon House District Race 32 is one of the few positions in the May 15, 2018 primary where voters have a choice. With few races on which to spend their money to influence the outcome of the election, the HD 32 race has attracted thousands of dollars from outside the district from corporations, unions, and non-profits. The money is predominantly from the Portland Metro area. “Clearly we need to do something to get money out of politics,” says John Orr, one of the Democrats running to replace Deborah Boone. Orr has accepted money only from individuals. He has collected 9% of the total contributed to this election. Tim Josi, whose money is predominately from corporations, has collected 52%. Tiffiny Mitchell has collected 38%, with the majority coming from Portland based unions and non-profits.

“Money is distorting democracy” says Orr. “The purpose of district elections is for local citizens to choose who will represent them in Salem. It is not for Portlanders to choose legislators in addition to their own”.

There is no easy solution to the problem. The Oregon Supreme court has ruled that money is a form of speech and can not be regulated. The campaign limits approved by the voters in Multnomah county were recently invalidated by the courts. Oregon compensates by having one of the nation’s most transparent financial reporting systems, but it doesn’t stem the flow of cash. An amendment to the Oregon constitution is the only way to insure campaign finance laws will stand up in court.

Elected officials often deny that contributions do not influence their votes. Willis Van Dusen, who contributed $1,500 to Josi, was clear about what motivated him. The Daily Astorian quoted him as saying “​It was just strictly a business decision, no more, no less”.

“I will make getting money out of political campaigns a top priority,” says Orr. “I will work with Democrats, Republicans and public interest groups to solve this problem once and for all”.