Million Dollar Races for Oregon Legislature

Big Spending for Seats in Oregon

The Oregonian
January 16. 2015
by Jeff Mapes

Spending on Oregon legislative campaigns appeared to rise to a record level last year – but this time Democrats had a decided financial advantage.

An analysis by The Oregonian/OregonLive of campaign disclosure reports shows that legislative candidates spent about $23.7 million last year running for office.

That's an increase from the nearly $23 million spent by candidates in 2012, according to a similar analysis by The Oregonian/OregonLive two years ago. Studies done in past years by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, which focused on fundraising instead of spending, add to evidence that Oregon's legislative campaign spending hit a record last year.

Jim Moore, a political scientist at Pacific University who follows state politics, said the continued rise in spending on legislative races comes as interest groups continue to compete to elect their favored candidates – or to curry favor with those they expect to be elected.

What Oregon legislative candidates spent in 2014
Democrats: $13.1 million
Republicans: $10.4 million
Other: $226,000
Total: $23.7 million
House races: $15.7 million
* Democrats: $8.9 million
*  Republicans: $6.6 million
Senate races: $8 million
* Democrats: $4.2 million
* Republicans: $3.8 million
Source: The Oregonian/OregonLive analysis of disclosure records from Oregon Secretary of State's Office

Oregon is one of 12 states with no legal limits on the size of contributions to state races, which helps to drive up the cost of races here.  [Note:  This is not correct.  There are only 6 states with no legal limits on political contributions to state races.]

What was particularly notable about last year, Moore said, was the big edge Democrats had in legislative campaigns. While Republicans had a big night around the country, Democrats continued to cement their political advantage in Oregon.

"This was a big shift," said Moore, noting that Republicans have often been able to outspend Democrats in the past. This year, donors were attracted to Democrats they thought would keep control of at least the House. "Incumbency and donors being pretty sure that people are going to keep those seats, that's where the money goes," he said.

In 2012, when the House was divided 30-30, Republican legislative candidates spent slightly more than Democrats, $11.7 million to $11 million.

But in 2014, Democrats spent nearly $13.1 million compared with $10.4 million for Republicans.

The edge was particularly pronounced in House races, where Democrats spent $2.3 million more than Republicans. Republican candidates were outspent in all but one of the six most expensive House races.

"The Democrats outspent us by a massive amount in those key districts," said House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte. "That's the reality."

House Majority Leader Val Hoyle, D-Eugene, said: "I'd like to see less money in politics, but you have to play the game by the rules and that's what we did."

She added: "We had our [fundraising] targets, and we hit our targets."

McLane said Democrats start out with an advantage because they are all but assured of large donations from public employee unions, which give only a few contributions to Republicans.

Hoyle said that while Democrats do have several traditional allies, they also made strong inroads last year with business groups by stressing their willingness to work with them.

The campaign money chase was more equal in the Senate, where Democrats spent $4.2 million compared with $3.8 million for Republicans. Republican candidates also spent more money in two of the three most competitive Senate races, although they ended up losing all three contests and Democrats now hold an 18-12 majority.

In the House, Democrats held on to the four swing seats they gained in 2012 and added one additional seat. They'll have a 35-25 majority when the session starts Feb. 2.

The Democratic fundraising advantage could be seen in the 2014 rematch between Rep. Brent Barton, D-Gladstone, and Milwaukie Republican Steve Newgard.

Two years ago, Barton won narrowly after outspending Newgard by about $150,000. This year, Barton outspent his Republican rival by more than twice that, about $330,000.

"I talked to some lobbyists who supported me last time who said they just didn't have a consensus from their committees to support me this time," said Newgard, whose margin of defeat jumped from 348 votes in 2012 to 1,948 in the latest election.

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