Public Opinion on Campaign Finance Reform

March 2019, Robin Quirke

Comparing the West Coast

On February 22, 2019, OregonLive published an eye-opening article on Oregon and how campaign finance has influenced environmental policies in “Polluted by Money: How corporate cash corrupted one of the greenest states in America.” Oregon, being only one of five states with no campaign finance limits, is falling behind Washington and California when it comes to campaign finance laws (and consequentially, environmental stewardship).

Public Opinion: Voters want campaign finance limits

Our public opinion research has consistently shown strong bipartisan support for limiting political campaign contributions and/or increasing transparency requirements for big donors, including PolicyInteractive’s survey work in 2010, 2012, 2017, and 2018.

December 2017:

In December of 2017, we surveyed 547 Oregon likely voters, asking them to choose which of the following two statements they agree with more. Either:

A: A federal constitutional amendment should be passed to regulate unlimited money in political campaigns.

Or

B: Campaign spending should be constitutionally protected as freedom of speech.

69% chose statement A, to amend the federal constitution to regulate money in political campaigns.

December 2018:

We asked this question again in December of 2018, this time with 1,372 Oregon voters. Once again, there was more support for statement A, with 76% expressing a preference to amend the federal constitution to allow regulation over statement B, campaign spending should be constitutionally protected as freedom of speech.

For this December 2018 survey, we went a little deeper in seeing what voters want when it comes to campaign finance reform:

  • 87% agreed that large political campaign donations buy special access and influence, and foster corruption.
  • 89% agreed that political campaign spending should be made as transparent as legally possible to identify the donors.
  • 14% opposed limiting contributions to $1000 to any candidate or measure.
  • 8% opposed requiring political messages to identify the 4 highest dollar donors when total donations exceed $2500.

We also tested the language presently being considered in the 2019 Oregon legislature’s Senate Joint Resolution 18, asking the respondents if they would vote for a ballot measure to amend Oregon’s Constitution to allow the state legislature, or the people through the initiative process, to enact laws limiting or prohibiting contributions to political campaigns.

83% of the respondents answered YES, they would vote to amend Oregon’s constitution to allow for this.

This 83% support for amending the state constitution is rather unusual. Other surveys we have conducted reveal Oregon voters to be rather resistant to amending the Oregon State Constitution, even if they think the policy in question is a good one.

This might reflect a lack of familiarity with Oregon’s constitution. U.S. state constitutions average 26,000 words, while the Oregon Constitution has over 60,000 words, having been amended 253 times. The Oregon Constitution is an ever-expanding document, not nearly as static as the U.S. Constitution, with its only 27 amendments. Amending the Oregon State Constitution should not get in the way of supporting policy that would reflect the strong bipartisanship support for campaign finance reform.

In the world of public opinion surveying, it is encouraging when we can find agreement reaching 70-75% on policy issues. So to see bipartisanship agreement reach up to 83, 87, and 89% is very rare, and gives a strong message that Oregon voters want campaign finance reform.

  • Full survey results and methodology here.
  • Results for campaign finance reform questions broken down by voter archetype here.

Current Oregon Legislation

Three resolutions and two bills, SJR13, SJR18, HJR13, HB2716, and HB2983, are being considered this 2019 session. See summary of SJR13 and HJR13 here.

  • Senate Joint Resolution 13 (seeks amendment to the Oregon Constitution’s Section 8 Article I) “Proposes amendment to Oregon Constitution to permit Legislative Assembly, or people through initiative process, to enact laws regulating use of moneys in political campaigns. Provides that amendment to Constitution applies only to laws enacted on or after December 3, 2020. Refers proposed amendment to people for their approval or rejection at next regular general election.”
  • Senate Joint Resolution 18 (seeks amendment to the Oregon Constitution’s Section 8 Article II) “Proposes amendment to Oregon Constitution specifying that Legislative Assembly, or people through initiative process, may enact laws limiting or prohibiting certain contributions made to candidates for public office. Refers proposed amendment to people for their approval or rejection at special election held on same date as next primary election.”
  • House Joint Resolution 13 (also seeks amendment to the Oregon Constitution’s Section 8 Article II) “Proposes amendment to Oregon Constitution to permit Legislative Assembly, governing body of city, county, municipality or district, or people through initiative process, to enact laws or regulations regulating use of moneys in political campaigns. Provides that amendment to Constitution applies only to laws enacted on or after December 3, 2020. Refers proposed amendment to people for their approval or rejection at next regular general election.”
  • House Bill 2716 “Requires communications made in support of or opposition to candidate or measure to identify whether candidate, petition committee or political committee authorized communication. Takes effect only if House Joint Resolution 13 (2019) is approved by people at regular general election held in November 2020. Takes effect on effective date of constitutional amendment proposed in House Joint Resolution 13 (2019)”
  • House Bill 2983 “Requires covered nonprofit to file donor identification list that identifies donors that made donations above specified amount to covered nonprofit if covered nonprofit makes aggregate political expenditures above specified amount. Permits covered nonprofit to establish separate campaign account. Limits disclosure requirement to donations above specified amount deposited into campaign account if conditions followed. Regulates covered nonprofit acceptance and use of anonymous donations. Establishes civil penalty for failure to comply with covered nonprofit disclosure requirements. Permits Secretary of State or Attorney General, upon reasonable suspicion of violation, to examine accounts of covered nonprofit being investigated as result of elector filing complaint alleging violation of election law or rule. Permits Attorney General, during investigation of election complaint, to issue subpoena to compel production of relevant documents or information.”

Work-arounds: Publicly funded campaigns

Because several legislative attempts to limit campaign contributions or implement strict disclosure requirements have constitutionally failed, some jurisdictions, including Portland have voted for campaign finance reform that allows candidates to opt in to a publicly funded campaign option as a constitutional work-around. Publicly funded campaigns increase political accessibility for potential candidates who lack the connections with big donors and reduces the power of those who would make large donations in a traditionally-funded campaign.

  • Small donor matching (where small donations are matched by the government; used in NYC since 1998)
  • Democracy vouchers (voters are given money vouchers by the government to donate to any candidate/s they choose)– see problems here.

History of statewide campaign finance bills in Oregon (list below pulled from Ballotpedia)

1908 Oregon Campaign Rules and Regulations:

Election results: 63% YES

The Oregon Campaign Rules and Regulations Bill, also known as Measure 16, was on the June 1, 1908 ballot in Oregon as an initiated state statute, where it was approved. The measure limited campaign contributions, created punishments for the “corrupting use of money,” prohibited Election Day attempts to persuade voters and required the public furnishing of information to voters.

1976 Oregon Partial Public Funding of Campaigns:

Election results: 71% NO

The Oregon Partial Public Funding of Campaigns Act, also known as Measure 7, was on the November 2, 1976 ballot in Oregon as a legislatively referred state statute, where it was defeated. The measure would have provided public funding for communications expenditures in general elections and sourced such funds from a voluntary checkoff on state income tax returns. Specifically, $90,000 could have been allocated to state officers elected at large, $4,900 for state senators and $2,450 for state representatives.

1994 Oregon Campaign Contributions, Finance and Spending Limits:

Election results: 72% YES

The Oregon Campaign Contributions, Finance and Spending Limits Act, also known as Measure 9, was on the November 8, 1994 ballot in Oregon as an initiated state statute, where it was approved. The measure limited contributions by individuals, certain groups and political action committees to candidates and adopted optional spending limits for some elections.

1994 Oregon Candidates to Receive Contributions from Residents Only:

Election results: 53% YES

The Oregon Candidates to Receive Contributions from Residents Only Amendment, also known as Measure 6, was on the November 8, 1994 ballot in Oregon as an initiated constitutional amendment, where it was approved. The measure permitted candidates to only use contributions from district residents and required violators to forfeit candidacy or office.

2000 Oregon Public Funding for Candidates Limiting Spending and Private Contributions:

Election results: 59% NO

The Oregon Public Funding for Candidates Limiting Spending and Private Contributions Act, also known as Measure 6, was on the November 7, 2000 ballot in Oregon as an initiated state statute, where it was defeated. The measure would have given limited public funding to candidates accepting limits on spending and private contributions.

2006 Regulation of Campaign Contributions:

Election results: 60% NO

Oregon Ballot Measure 46 was on the November 7, 2006 ballot in Oregon as an initiated constitutional amendment. It was defeated.

If Measure 46 had been approved, it would have amended the Oregon Constitution to allow laws limiting or prohibiting election contributions and expenditures, if any such laws were to be adopted by the state’s initiative process or by a 3/4 super-majority vote of both houses of the Oregon State Legislature.

2006 Revision of Campaign Finance Laws:

Election results: 53% YES

Oregon Ballot Measure 47 was on the November 7, 2006 ballot in Oregon as an initiated state statute. It was approved.

Measure 47 placed strict caps on how much individuals can spend on candidates ($500 for statewide office, $100 for other public offices) and bans contributions from corporations and unions entirely.[1] Measure 47 went hand-in-hand with 2006’s Measure 46 that sought to amend the free speech areas of the Oregon Constitution that allow unlimited contributions from any individual or organization. Measure 46 was defeated.

2008 Oregon No Public Resources To Collect Political Funds:

Election results: 51% NO

Oregon No Public Resources To Collect Political Funds, Measure 64 (IRR 25) was on the November 4, 2008 ballot in Oregon as an initiated state statute. It was defeated.

Measure 50, if it had passed, would have prohibited money collected with the use of public resources from being used for political purposes, except elections, official voter pamphlets and most lobbying. “Political purpose” is defined as: candidates, political committee or party, initiative or referendum committee, and supporting/opposing candidates or ballot measures (including signature gathering for petitions).

Oregon’s campaign finance limits: Only one in five states with none

  Ballotpedia “Campaign finance limits in Oregon

Comments, questions, inquiries: info@policyinteractive.org

Report by Robin Quirke