Task Force split on support for campaign finance reform

Editors Note: The Following article is a detailed review of the recommendations made by a Legislatively created task force on Campaign Finance Reform. In the end, the only members to vote no on all campaign finance reform proposals were a representative from business, and representatives of the Republican, Democratic and Libertarian Parties. While opposition from business, and the Libertarian and  Republican parties is honorably explained by their philosophies, the Democratic Party of Oregon opposition should be explained to their membership. 80% of whom support campaign finance reform. 

The Independent Party of Oregon was the only major political party that supported moving forward on campaign finance reform.

 

By Seth Woolley, Pacific Green Party and Progressive Party representative on the JTFCFR

Readers may have seen my last update on the Oregon Joint Task Force on Campaign Finance Reform (JTFCFR), republished on the Oregon Outpost.

The JTFCFR, which has been meeting monthly since September, was primarily charged by the legislature with the task of drafting and approving a report regarding Campaign Finance Reform, due by the end of the year. A report had been approved at the December meeting.

The Task Force was also legislatively authorized to recommend future legislation so long as a majority of the members (9 out of 17) voted in favor. This report covers what happened at the next meeting, which occurred on Tuesday, Jan 12, 2016.

Background

Task Force Composition

In my prior report, I didn’t go over the Task Force composition because the vote outcome wasn’t as material. Here it’s important to the story.

Seth Woolley

Seth Woolley

The Secretary of State (SoS) chairs the Task Force and is a member. Four legislators, a D and R from each Rules Committee were assigned to the Task Force. Further, 6 citizens representing various NGOs, 5 citizens representing Oregon political parties, and one representative of a business association were appointed to the Task Force by the Secretary of State. Two of those citizens were representatives from the D and R parties. At this point the D and R parties controlled 7 out of 17 of the seats, outright (their own 2, the 4 legislators, and the SoS).

The Independent Party, the Pacific Green / Progressive Parties, and the Libertarian Party each have one representative. The “business community” was given a representative (Justin Delaney). If you add in the “business community” and the Libertarian Party to the seven noted above, you end up with a majority of 9 persons representing groups historically opposed to any meaningful campaign finance reform. The other positions were filled out by two non-affiliated voter representatives and four local NGOs, though one of those NGOs is the Bus Project (BP), functionally a controlled arm of Democratic Party funders who had previously officially opposed meaningful campaign finance reform.

This is, by any definition, a group controlled by insiders.

Here is the entire Task Force with my abbreviations:

SoS
Chair, Appointed Secretary of State Democrat Atkins
SRD
Senate Rules Committee Democrat Rosenbaum
SRR
Senate Rules Committee Republican Boquist
HRD
House Rules Committee Democrat Rayfield
HRR
House Rules Committee Republican Gilliam
REP
(Major Party) Republican Party Representative Margie Hughes
DEM
(Major Party) Democratic Party Representative Trent Lutz
IPO
(Major Party) Independent Party Representative Rob Harris
LIB
(Minor Party) Libertarian Party Representative Kyle Markley
PPG
(Minor Party) Progressive Party and Pacific Green Party Representative Seth Woolley (registered PGP)
IVO
Non-affiliated Voter Representative Dave Ellis of the Independent Voters of Oregon
PIRG
Non-affiliated Voter Representative Dave Rosenfeld of OSPIRG
LWV
League of Women Voters of Oregon Representative Norman Turrill
CC
Campaign Finance Reform Organization Representative Common Cause Oregon Representative Daniel Lewkow
CIO
Non-profit Organization Representative Center for Intercultural Organizing Representative Mee Seon Kwon
BP
Voter Registration Organization The Bus Project Representative Nikki Fisher
OBC
For-profit Organization Representative, Oregon Business Council Representative, and Oregon Business Association Board Member Justin Delaney

The Actual Meeting

The Four Task Force Legislation Proposals

All of the proposals provide an Oregon Constitutional Amendment to enable Campaign Finance Reform in the form of at least contribution limits on candidate campaigns. A table below breaks them down further.

As a refresher, at the prior December meeting, the League of Women Voters (LWV) representative motioned to consider and approve a proposed Oregon constitutional amendment with a separate statutory provision to stay measure 47 until September of 2017. This proposal was altered by a substitute motion to authorize the Chair (SoS) to go looking for another proposal from the Legislature itself. Why this was needed, I still have no idea. There were four members from the Legislature on the Task Force who could have brought any legislation they wanted to the Task Force.

In the last report, I suggested the SoS proposal would look like the prior session’s SJR5 with a Measure 47 repealer or exception. 2006 Measure 47 if you don’t remember, is the only campaign finance reform legislation on the books in Oregon, remaining wholly unenforced because the Oregon Supreme Court refuses to compel the Secretary of State to enforce the law. A companion Measure 46 that explicitly authorized Measure 47 with a small constitutional change, did not pass, while the strong statute in Measure 47 was approved by a majority of Oregon voters. That statute remains on the books, not repealed, nor enforced. The proposal that came from the SoS was exactly what I expected. It was essentially SJR5 with the “dash 2” amendments applied: allowing contribution limits only in future legislation, not by any means of Measure 47. This proposal is called Legislative Concept 137 (LC137) by Legislative Counsel, for the 2016 short legislative session. Bills that may or may not be introduced are assisted in their drafting by Legislative Counsel, so before they get an official bill number upon their introduction, they often have LC numbers associated to them.

After the December meeting, three citizen petitioners, campaign finance reform advocates from a diverse group of parties (with Independent Rob Harris (also on the Task Force), Pacific Green Seth Woolley (me), and Progressive Liz Trojan) filed with the Oregon Secretary of State Elections Division a statewide citizen-initiated petition for the 2016 General Election. This proposal is numbered IP77.

The night before the meeting, Rob Harris submitted a fourth proposal that combined the contribution limits language from the SoS’s proposal with the LWV’s proposed separate statutory language that stayed (delayed) Measure 47, rather than having an explicit repealer or exception as the SoS proposal had in the constitutional amendment directly.

Libertarian Markley suggested a feature matrix of the proposals. Such a feature matrix would look something like this:

JTFCFR Proposal Comparisons
Feature LC137 (SoS) LWV (LWV) IP77 (IPO/PPG) LC137+LWV (Harris)
Amending Article and Section add to II.8 add new II.25 add new ll.25 add to II.8
Affects Measure 47 Keeps unenforced via Constitution Delays via Statute Preserves Entirely Delays via Statute
Permits Contribution Limits Yes Yes Yes Yes
Permits (Independent) Expenditure Limits (such as those in M47) No removes OR Constitution as a barrier removes OR Constitution as a barrier No
Permits Requiring disclosure of “true sources” of funding on ads No removes OR Constitution as a barrier removes OR Constitution as a barrier No
Applies to which elections candidate campaigns all, including measures all, including measures candidate campaigns

By saying “removes OR Constitution as a barrier” I mean those limits or disclosure requirements would be expressly permitted by the Oregon Constitution. Whether or not they would be permitted by the U.S. Constitution would be a matter for the United States Supreme Court. That Court has vigorously upheld disclosure requirements but has struck down limits on independent expenditures (Citizens United, 2010). Two of the 5 justices in the 5-4 Citizens United majority are 79 years old now and are likely to be replaced by the next President, as is Justice Ginsburg of the Citizens United minority. Hillary Clinton has stated that her litmus test for appointing a justice is opposition to Citizens United.

Clinton’s pledge to use opposition to Citizens United as a litmus test for Supreme Court nominees echoes the stance taken by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is challenging her for the Democratic nomination. – Washington Post May 14, 2015

None of the language would expressly implement any laws. Some of the language may leave existing laws unenforced, as noted in the “Affects Measure 47” section. Only one proposal (IP77) opted to preserve and empower the existing statutes that voters in Oregon have already passed.

Votes on the General Idea and the Four Proposals

Five votes were taken at the meeting. The first vote was on the “general idea” of recommending (to the 2016 legislature) a referral for a Constitutional Amendement to the voters by the legislature. The four following votes were on each proposal. The SoS chose the order of voting.

The votes for each of the proposals, as documented on video, were as follows:

JTFCFR Proposal Votes
Proposal aye nay abstain excused/absent
General Idea (9)PPG,LWV,CC,CIO,IPO,BP,IVO,SRD,SoS (5)PIRG*,LIB,DEM,OBC@,HRR (0) (3)REP,HRD,SRR
LC137 (SoS) (10)PPG,LWV,PIRG,CC,CIO,IPO,BP,IVO,SRD,SoS (2)LIB,DEM (2)HRR+,OBC+ (3)REP,HRD,SRR
LWV (LWV) (5)PPG,LWV,CC,CIO,IPO (7)LIB,DEM,BP,IVO,OBC,SRD,SoS (2)HRR+,PIRG (3)REP,HRD,SRR
IP77 (IPO/PPG) (3)PPG,LWV,IPO (6)LIB,DEM,CIO,BP,OBC,SRD (5)PIRG,CC,IVO,HRR+,SoS# (3)REP,HRD,SRR
LC137+LWV (Harris) (6)PPG,LWV,PIRG,IPO,CC,CIO (5)LIB,DEM,BP,OBC,SRD%,SoS (2)IVO,HRR+ (3)REP,HRD,SRR

Explanations for the Votes

* PIRG’s no vote for the first item was explained that while they support the idea of a constitutional amendment being referred, they didn’t feel it was appropriate to do so until organizations that had opposed Measure 46 had decided to change their minds.

@ OBC’s no vote for the first item was “explained” as “inappropriate to rush” given the 2016 short session begin too short and too soon after last session’s failure.

+ Abstentions here are explained by their already having indicated no support for a 2016 short session proposal.

# SoS’s abstention on IP77 was explained by her somehow wanting to remain impartial, as it was already filed, though no explanation was given for why she opted to vote on the other items which would also be offered to a vote she administers via merely a different method of ballot qualification. She is appointed for a time period through the general election until next January when a newly-elected SoS will take office. Given her no vote on measures of lesser strength, closer to the item which she voted yes on, it’s probable her intention would have been to vote no on IP77.

% No vote on the specific wording of the statutory-only clause was described by SRD as problematic since it could apply to any proposal such as a ban on union donations, she wouldn’t want to have M47 take effect in that case. [SAW: I note that although M47’s small donor committees would effectively preserve the rights of the union membership to speak and limiting the effect of corporations would seem to be more necessary to counterbalance such a proposal — often critics of M47 aren’t aware of how it works.]

I noted that I voted yes on all the proposals, even those that affected M47 because I felt that it was more important to refer proposals to the legislature, and that I would always support M47. The LC137 proposal required my vote to proceed (I was told this in advance at the break and it was clear no other motions had a majority) until the PIRG vote was changed to be in favor. I wasn’t going to sabotage a referral with a no vote over the disempowerment of M47 — if that’s the only thing that could move forward. Rather than change my vote back to a no vote, I just explained it afterwards. I’d prefer the four proposals in rank order of IP77, LWV, LC137+LWV, and then LC137. I would actually vote for all four proposals if they were the only item on the ballot at the time of the vote. Getting the Oregon Constitution amended to allow Campaign Finance Reform is significant enough in that it allows us to actually implement campaign finance reform at all given the current legal environment. Another statutory change could then be achieved at a later date.

Breakdown of the Votes

The IPO and the LWV also voted yes on all the proposals with PPG (me). CC and PIRG abstained on more than one. IVO voted no on the LWV item and abstained on the later two while voting yes for the first. CIO voted yes on all except IP77. The strongest reforms that would have allowed M47 to potentially remain in force were voted against, but the neutering of M47 was voted in favor by: BP, SRD, and the SoS. Those three in the latter group are interesting, and represent Democrats. It turns out the Democrats really don’t like M47 and would stop at nothing to make sure it’s not implemented. The following groups opposed or abstained on them all: LIB, DEM, OBC, and HRR. The following three were excused from voting on all three items: REP, HRD, and SRR.

It’s reasonable to assume HRD would have been in favor of the first proposal and opposed to the rest (given support for the December proposal to have the Secretary fetch a proposal and the Dem’s other votes), and that REP and SRR would vote no on all items, but that’s not known for sure.

It’s important to note that the Democratic Party representative officially opposed all attempts at campaign finance reform proposed and provided no alternative of their own, in line with the OBC and every other right-leaning entity.

In the end the legislature at least has no more excuses from their own delay-game task force not to act on at a minimum the weak, watered-down proposal they had in front of them during the last session.

Comments

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