Oregon Democratic nominee Tina Kotek said Monday she supports campaign finance reform efforts. (Campaign photo)
Democrat Tina Kotek pledged Monday to make capping campaign contributions one of her top priorities if she’s elected governor – but she won’t turn down large campaign checks.
Kotek, Republican Christine Drazan and nonaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson last week surpassed the $40 million fundraising record set by Democratic Gov. Kate Brown and Republican nominee Knute Buehler in 2018. The three have raised more than $42 million combined since January 2021, buoyed by large checks from national Democratic and Republican groups, labor unions, businesses and Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who has personally spent $6.75 million this year to boost Johnson, Drazan and Republicans running for the Oregon Legislature.
During a Portland town hall with campaign finance reform advocates Monday morning, Kotek criticized the state’s lack of campaign finance limits, and particularly how they allow Oregon’s wealthiest man to single-handedly spend millions on campaigns. She’s calling to limit individual contributors to $2,000 for statewide races and $1,000 for legislative races in future elections, but she said she wouldn’t refuse a $1 million check from an individual.
“I played sports in high school. If you didn’t like the rules, you didn’t change the rules, you just played by them,” she said. “Right now those are the rules of the road for this campaign, but if I have any say this will be the last governor’s race where we have no limits.”
Oregon is one of only five states with no limits on how much money any person or organization can give to a campaign, and efforts to reform the system have repeatedly failed. Kotek supported legislation in 2019 that would have created caps of $2,800 for statewide races and $1,000-$1,500 for legislative races.
Drazan voted against it, as did all but one other Republican in the state House. At the time, Drazan said Oregon’s previous three-year experiment with strict campaign finance limits in the 1990s resulted in a political environment in which independent groups still spent money attacking or supporting candidates.
Independent expenditures aren’t often used in Oregon, because it’s more cost-effective to give money directly to candidates. In other states and in federal races, outside groups more frequently spend money to elect certain candidates, though these independent groups are barred from coordinating with campaigns.
Kotek’s campaign finance event included Nathalie Paravicini, the former gubernatorial nominee of the Oregon Progressive Party and Pacific Green Party, who withdrew from the race shortly after Kotek committed to supporting campaign finance reform efforts. A top official in the Oregon Republican Party last week asked the secretary of state to investigate whether Kotek broke state law by inducing Paravicini to leave the race.
Paravicini said that she withdrew for “personal reasons” and described a question about whether there was any truth to the Republican allegations as “gaslighting.”
“What is Drazan’s position on undue influence, on money?” she said. “That is a big issue, not because I withdrew from the race for personal reasons.”
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