Tina Kotek is the Democrat candidate for governor. (Campaign photo)
A top official with the Oregon Republican Party filed a complaint Friday alleging that Democratic nominee for governor Tina Kotek broke state law with promises she made to a third-party candidate who then dropped out of the race.
Nathalie Paravicini, a naturopathic doctor nominated by both the Oregon Progressive Party and Pacific Green Party, withdrew from the race in early September after Kotek committed to support campaign finance reform efforts. Her withdrawal left Kotek as the most liberal candidate in the race, which also includes Republican Christine Drazan, nonaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson, Constitution Party candidate Donice Noelle Smith and Libertarian candidate R. Leon Noble.
Multiple recent polls indicated that Kotek and Drazan are in a dead heat with Drazan slightly ahead, indicating that Johnson, who was a Democratic state senator before her run for governor, is pulling more support from would-be Kotek voters. In the last gubernatorial election in 2018, Gov. Kate Brown beat Republican Rep. Knute Buehler in 2018 by 6 points.
The complaint, submitted by Oregon Republican National Committeewoman Tracy Honl, alleges that Kotek broke an Oregon law that prohibits anyone from promising something of value to induce a candidate to stop running.
“What happened here is obvious,” Honl wrote. “Tina Kotek bought off a left-wing rival by changing political positions. Having a governor who will support favored policies is obviously a thing of value — worth far more than one dollar — as demonstrated by the millions donated to governor campaigns this year.”
Paravicini said she withdrew for personal reasons and because of Kotek’s commitment to support efforts limiting donors to $2,000 per statewide candidates and $1,000 for legislative candidates; increasing transparency around who funds so-called “dark money” groups and creating statewide public financing options, which exist in other states and in Portland municipal elections.
“Winning an election is not only about getting elected but also about raising alternative solutions and changing the debate,” Paravicini said in a statement when she dropped out. “That objective was advanced when Tina Kotek last week made specific public commitments to prioritize campaign finance reform.”
Brown made a similar promise to Patrick Starnes, the Independent Party of Oregon candidate in 2018. She supported a 2020 ballot measure ensuring campaign finance limits could be enforced under the Constitution but made no other efforts to change Oregon’s laissez-faire campaign finance laws.
Kotek’s campaign spokeswoman, Katie Wertheimer, called the complaint “absurd” in a statement to the Capital Chronicle.
“Wow. The national Republicans must be getting really desperate because this complaint is absurd on its face,” Wertheimer said. “Nathalie Paravicini released a statement explaining her own, personal decision to withdraw from the race almost six weeks ago.”
She noted that Drazan on Thursday accepted a $1 million contribution from billionaire Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who previously donated $3.75 million to Johnson’s campaign. Knight has also spent $2 million to help elect Republican candidates to the state Legislature.
“While Tina is advocating for long-overdue contribution limits to end the corrupting influence of money in politics, Christine Drazan just took a million-dollar check from a billionaire Republican who is trying to single-handedly buy Oregon’s elections and flip Oregon red,” Wertheimer said.
Kotek added a section to her website before Paravicini dropped out describing her campaign finance reform goals. As speaker of the House, she supported bills sponsored by current Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, to create contribution limits and require political ads to disclose donors, but that legislation died in the state Senate.
And Kotek, like Drazan and Johnson, benefitted from large contributions this election cycle. The nearly $14 million she raised for her campaign included close to $5 million from the Democratic Governors Association and more than $600,000 from a political action committee affiliated with Stand for Children, a nonprofit that doesn’t disclose its donors.
Honl’s complaint also questioned whether Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, a Democrat who received campaign contributions from Kotek in 2020, could remain neutral and fairly evaluate the complaint.
Fagan clarified in an emailed statement that non-political employees investigate complaints.
“Elections complaints are investigated and decided by professional staff in the Oregon Elections Division who have worked under Secretaries of both parties,” Fagan said. “Their decisions are based on the law and are applied fairly to all candidates.”
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