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Oregon is one of a few states that have no limits for campaign finance contributions. Instead, Oregon has a longstanding tradition of robust transparency with regard to campaign contributions and other money spent on behalf of candidates. Voters, the media, candidates, activists and anyone else can find who gives what to a candidate.

For many years, legislators and campaign finance reform advocates have taken stabs at putting limits in place. OBI has consistently said that it has no objection to limits on contributions as long as a new system is fair, constitutional and easy for everyone to follow. Further, OBI has a strong desire to see Oregon’s tradition of transparency maintained, if not enhanced through improved reporting tools.

Advocates behind Initiative Petition 9 are gathering signatures to put an incredibly complex system on the ballot for voter approval in November. This system would establish limits so low that we’d likely see a proliferation of dark money in elections, just like at the federal level. Further, OBI believes many of the measure’s provisions are unconstitutional, including those that exclude businesses and business associations (like OBI, industry groups and your local chamber) from directly supporting candidates.

Fortunately, legislators are interested in a better path forward and have asked OBI and other organizations representing employers, workers and various issues to come together to develop a campaign finance system that meets the requirements of constitutionality, access to participation, fairness, and—importantly—enhanced disclosure and transparency.

On Feb. 23, such a proposal received a hearing before the House Committee on Rules. Though HB 4024 took shape quickly during this year’s legislative session, it is the culmination many years of conversations and draws language from prior bills as well as current proposed ballot measures.

The proposal largely adopts federal campaign contribution limits, allowing candidates to maintain control over their own messages, as OBI Director of Political Affairs Preston Mann testified.

The proposal itself is highly detailed, as any proposal that first imposes limits must be, but it is not complicated. At a high level, it adopts federal limits for contributions made by persons and various committee types to candidate and other political committees, and it creates small donor committees to allow grassroots organizations to leverage their collective strength.

As evidence of the fairness with which the proposal treats traditional opponents, OBI President and CEO Angela Wilhelms testified jointly with Felisa Hagins, political director of the Service Employees International Union Local 49. Among other things, their testimony provided context for this session’s reform proposal.

“We would likely not be here today were it not for the very real likelihood that – absent action by this Legislature – Oregonians will face competing ballot measures this November,” Wilhelms explained. “This competition could result in a messy combination of laws that will add clutter, confusion and chaos into Oregon’s campaign finance system.”

Not only does HB 4024 preserve the ability of candidates to raise enough money to make themselves heard, but it funds much-needed improvements to ORESTAR, Oregon’s antiquated online disclosure system and requires the secretary of state to generate certain reports for the public.

The proposal discussed Feb. 23 is not final. Further amendments are forthcoming to fix drafting errors, further clarify intent and improve the proposal based on robust stakeholder input.

To learn more about HB 4024, go to the Legislature’s website here. Go here to watch a recording of the Feb. 23 committee hearing during which Wilhelms testified. A user-friendly grid showing proposed contribution and spending limits can be found here.