PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled that limits on campaign contributions are legal in Oregon.
The Oregonian/OregonLive reports the court on Thursday ruled that limits do not violate the state constitution, which means controls can be put on the unlimited flow of cash into campaigns statewide.
It could also end Oregon’s distinction as one of the biggest money states in American politics. The court ruled that $500 campaign limits adopted by Multnomah County voters in 2016 do not run afoul of the state constitution.
The ruling sends the case back to a lower court to decide whether Multnomah County’s dollar limits themselves are too low.
Portland to not immediately enforce campaign contribution limits
The City Auditor’s Office does not plan to begin immediately enforcing campaign finance limits on City Council races because of the Oregon Supreme Court ruling that they do not violate the Oregon Constitution.
Portland Elections Officer Deborah Scroggin said the Thursday ruling only applies to a ballot measure that amended the Multnomah County Charter. Another case about a similar measure that sought to amend the City Charter is currently before the Oregon Court of Appeals.
“The city is not a party to this case,” Scroggin said about the April 23 ruling. “It will not be changing how we administer anything in the short term.”
The ruling was issued less than a month before the May 19 primary election.
Supporters of the measure, including Portland attorney and campaign finance reform activist Dan Meek, say Scroggin’s office should immediately begin penalizing candidates who have received contributions above the $500 limit in both measures. They include Mayor Ted Wheeler, mayoral challenger Ozzie Gonzalez, and City Council candidates Jack Kerfoot and Keith Wilson, among others.
Meek said he will send a letter to Scoggin’s office demanding the limits be enforced as soon as Friday, April 24.
“The limits are in effect,” said Meek, who is active with Honest Elections, the advocacy group that wrote both measures.
The lawyer who challenged the measure before the Oregon Supreme Court argues the limits are not in effect, however. Among other things, Gregory Chaimov notes the ruling remands the measure back to the trial court to determine if the amounts are valid.
“The Supreme Court’s decision won’t be final for at least three weeks while the parties have an opportunity to ask the court to reconsider the decision, and even then, as you note, the trial court needs to decide if the amounts of the county’s limits are valid,” said Chaimov.
Wheeler’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Meek said the new ruling should apply equally to the city measure because both measures are so similar and were heard by the same judge. Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Eric Bloch conducted validation hearings on both of the measures, and he ruled both violated the free speech provisions of the Oregon Constitution.
The case concerning the Multnomah County measure, which was approved and heard first, was appealed directly to the Oregon Supreme Court. The Portland case, which was heard later, was sent to the Oregon Court of Appeals, where no action has yet been taken on it.
The Oregon Supreme Court ruled the county measure does not violate the free speech provisions of the Oregon Constitution, but remanded the case back to Bloch to determine if it violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The Portland Business Alliance, which was among those challenging the county measure, issued the following joint statement:
“In November, Oregon voters will be asked to approve a constitutional amendment to allow campaign contribution limits. Passage of that measure should initiate the start of a bipartisan, collaborative conversation about how limits will be set to ensure a fair and even playing field for all involved. It makes no sense to revert to a legally flawed ballot measure that has been essentially mothballed for the last 14 years. A lot has changed in Oregon since 2006. The focus should be on crafting an implementation plan about what makes sense for today and the years ahead. We appreciate that legislative leaders appear ready to have that discussion in the 2021 legislative session and we intend to be part of it.”
The ruling follows a determination by Scoggin’s office on Tuesday that Wheeler’s campaign violated another provision of the Portland measure that Bloch had upheld. The office warned the campaign for not listing the top five contributors about $1,000 on its campaign advertising.
The office gave the campaign until May 5 to come into compliance with the requirement, whch it noted was new and complex.
“I strongly encourage the campaign to familiarize itself with these campaign regulations and correct the violations on all campaign communications as quickly as possible,” Scroggin said in an April 21 letter to the campaign.