Court case could prompt changes in Oregon campaign finance laws

This is the case that could get Oregon Democratic leadership to finally start to tackle the difficult terrain of election and campaign finance reform in Oregon.

Janus  v AFSCME, in the US Supreme Court

This case has been briefed to death by labor, big business, and government. (See SCOTUS blog.com). Oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court is set for February 26, 2018 with a decision expected by the end of the Court’s term  in June. The case only effects public employee unions, not private unions

Snippet with quick explanation from the influential labor law blog – Ross Runkel Report

“Public sector labor unions are trembling at the thought of losing a significant source of funds – the “fair share” fees that non-members must pay to the unions in order to keep their jobs. Unions represent 35 percent of the government workforce, so we’re looking at huge amounts of money that objectors say is being taken from employee paychecks in violation of the 1st amendment.

Janus v. AFSCME [Briefs] could upend decades of 1st amendment understanding by overruling Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977) [Text], which upheld the constitutionality of fair share fees. Oral argument is scheduled for February 26 at the US Supreme Court, with a decision expected in the Spring. 

Everyone I know expects the Court to overrule Abood. The Court split 4-4 on this issue in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association [PDF] in 2016. Adding Justice Gorsuch to the Court appears to provide the necessary fifth vote to overrule Abood.”

As Runkel stated, this issue had been expected to be settled by Friedrichs however the issue wasn’t settled and Abood was allowed to stand after Justice Scalia suddenly died leaving the US Supreme Court split 4 – 4.  (More info on Friedrichs)

In Oregon, while Democratic Party members overwhelmingly support campaign finance reforms, the Democratic Party leadership and it’s primary funders do not. And why not, under the current law in Oregon – there are zero limits on what candidates can raise, what donors can donate, and what campaigns can spend – those that hold power continue to win. Why mess with the rules? But should the Court find in favor of Petitioners in Janus, it’s clear that the primary funders of Democratic candidates and causes would take a huge financial hit  which would reduce their ability to fund candidates sympathetic to their causes.

So for progressive Oregonians sympathetic to campaign finance reform, Janus is a two edged sword. While it will likely damage labor’s influence in elections, it will spur Democratic leaders to take a closer look at limiting the influence of money in politics.

Maybe it’s apt that the Roman Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions, of gates, doors, doorways, endings and time. He is usually a two-faced god since he looks to the future and the past.

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