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House of Cards

The Messy Path for Campaign Reform



On Election Night, the battle for statewide campaign finance reform took a turn—although a turn for where, exactly, nobody knows.

One of lawyer/activist Dan Meek's ballot measures—Measure 47, which bans corporate and union money and sets up a stringent set of campaign finance rules for individuals—passed with around 54 percent of the vote. But Measure 46, the constitutional amendment that actually allows M47 to exist, failed with a whopping 60 percent no vote.

And that leaves the secretary of state's office—which is charged with enforcing the law—scratching its head, unsure which parts of the law can be enacted. Meek says that much of M47's rules are still enforceable, like the requirements on candidates who spend more than $5,000 of their own money to disclose how much they've spent on every campaign ad.

But here's where it gets tricky: M47 contains a "severability clause," which says that if any part of the law is struck down, the rest of the law remains. But it also has a clause that says if the constitutional amendment doesn't pass, all of M47 stays on the books until the constitution is amended to allow it.

Campaign finance experts say those two clauses may conflict with each other, and that M47 is essentially a house of cards that may or may not crumble without M46. Adding to the problem is that most of the clauses in M47 are interdependent, which means they aren't easily separated from each other.

John Lindback, the secretary of state's elections officer, says his department has asked the attorney general's office for advice on how to proceed—the law is scheduled to become active December 7.

Another problem, Lindback says, is there is no money or staff to enforce the rules. "We estimated there's a $1 million financial impact to enforce it; so far, our budget is zero," Lindback says.

The conflict is expected to land in the courts over the coming year. A likely scenario is that opponents of M47 will sue the state to keep it from enforcing the law. That will then work its way through the appellate level and possibly the Oregon Supreme Court. In the meantime, the legislature can repeal M47, significantly amend it, or wait for direction from the courts.

Considering the bizarre split vote (no on 46/yes on 47), though, legislators will have a difficult time figuring out what voters actually thought they were passing.


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