The strongest belief that pulled me back into politics three years ago is this: We won’t make much headway to solving Oregon’s core problems until we drastically reduce the power of big money in Salem.
It wasn’t difficult for the voters to do. Donald Trump had a line of applause in 2016 that was true for everyone who heard it: the system is rigged.
I heard it over and over two years later on my own campaign path. Pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to, from left to right, nodded or shook hands as I put campaign finance reform high on my election agenda.
That momentum helped get me into the Senate and got President Peter Courtney to hand me the gavel of a brand new campaign finance committee. There we passed SJR 18, which referred measure 107 to the voters. It called on Oregonians to clarify the state’s constitutional language and let us know if they wanted to authorize state and local governments to regulate campaign funding.
What they – you – replied by a whopping 4-1 gap last November was YES.
Great – you gave us clear marching orders to take the campaign fund limit seriously.
I went to the 2021 session on SB 336, my proposal for Campaign Finance Reform (CFR), and two other lawmakers brought theirs. This would be the year for CFR in Oregon!
Well, today I sent out my newsletter at the end of the session with a summary of the legislative achievements. We actually did some valuable things; I’ll probably brag about a few when I campaign again. Missing from that list, and I mean nowhere in sight, CFR.
Our progress towards a transparent political system driven more by popular power than by great concentrated money has not advanced an inch.
Why? For starters, CFR isn’t a conversation that a lot of lawmakers like. Few would say the status quo is okay and most would welcome a change to get them out of the game of dollar advertising. But many get cold, if not offended, by a conversation that implies putting campaign money above principle.
Which I am not implying. I value the integrity of most of my coworkers, and the idea of them being bought with burlap sacks of cash, perhaps with cartoon $ signs on the side, is completely wrong.
Large campaign contributions are less of a corruption and more of a distraction. They distract us from our duty to weigh the pros and cons of complex invoices in order to arrive at AYE or NAY. This is often a difficult task that requires all of our attention.
What does not help is a question that sometimes, perhaps unconsciously, comes to the mind of every public official I have met, however principally: “What will my major donors think of it?”
That is not a question that we want in the mix when the heads of state and government make voting decisions. I don’t know how often it changes voices, but I’m sure it postpones or dilutes bold solutions as these times require. When that happens, we fall further behind; The fundamental problems we face – the widening gap between rich and poor, the deterioration of natural systems, the cycles of crime and social dysfunction – are moving ever faster as our piecemeal solution is hampered by concerns about what big financiers are will think walking on tiptoe.
The solution to the distracting large donor question is not to wait for a change in human, in this case the legislature, nature. It is to make sure that there are no large donors.
SB 336 would do that, and I will bring it or a similar bill back for another round in the 2022 session. It does two things that CFR must do: exclude all distracting large donations from any person or group with a personal interest in how laws come out, and provide a structure that is simple enough for interested citizens to track the money. We have to do this; Renouncing CFR is tantamount to renouncing the promise of representative democracy.
But who will do it? Legislators, who started and won the campaign finance system we have now? Can we, who sit in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, seek serious reforms? Or do citizens have to take the reins in a CFR election initiative?
The 2022 meeting should answer that. Definitely count me in.
Senator Jeff Golden represents Medford, Ashland, Phoenix, Talent, Jacksonville, and the Applegate Valley. For a summary of the legislation passed at the 2021 meeting or details of current CFR proposals, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org