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Splitting the Left

Lines Are Drawn on Campaign Reform

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For more than six months, a political battle has been brewing in the state over possible reforms to the way campaigns are financed. But the fight isn't unfolding along traditional conservative/liberal lines—instead, the war is among progressive groups.

Measure 46 would amend the state constitution to allow the state legislature (or voters through the initiative process) to pass limitations on how money is raised for campaigns. Currently, Oregon's wide-open free speech laws prevent any limitations on who can give to campaigns and in what amounts. Measure 47 is a state statute that would enact such limitations. A group called FairElections Oregon, headed up by local public interest attorney Dan Meek, is pushing both measures.

At first glance, the idea of removing or limiting money in the political process would be appealing to progressive groups— especially considering the overwhelming contributions that corporations make to political campaigns every election cycle. But, in reality, the practical implications have pitted progressive groups against each other.

Lefty groups like the Pacific Green Party, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and the Clackamas County Democratic Party have endorsed FairElections Oregon. At the same time, it's being opposed by groups like Oregon League of Conservation Voters, the AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood, and Basic Rights Oregon.

"A whole lot of groups who would normally support campaign finance reform are sitting this one out—at best," says Jesse Cornett, the campaign director for anti-M46/47 group Protect Our Voice. "It sounds great, but if you scratch below the surface, not so much."

The problem, according to Cornett, is that Measure 47 would effectively force liberal advocacy groups and unions out of the campaign process. If they wanted to donate to a candidate or political action committee, they would have to form a separate entity, and could only raise contributions from individuals $50 at a time. Corporations would be prevented from donating at all.

But Meek says the measures were crafted to gain union support. "We put in the small donor provisions [the $50 limit] for them," he said. "The impact on them will be minimal, but the impact on their opposition will be enormous. Unions are outspent 2-1 by corporations, but, goddammit, they're number two. This would strengthen unions' influence relative to corporations, but that's not how they perceive it. Unions are against [spending] limits, period."

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