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Cap campaign cash

A recent series of stories in The Oregonian described a broken campaign finance system in Oregon. The conclusion is clear: Oregon must act, and voters must make that possible by amending the Oregon Constitution.

The Oregonian’s series described a system that sets no limits at all on contributions — one of only five states in the country where that is true. Corporations and industry groups in particular have taken full advantage of that, giving more money to the average lawmaker per state resident than all but five other states.

Just one example: The timber industry gave more money to winning candidates per capita, per lawmaker and in total dollars in Oregon than anywhere else over a decade.

Lawmakers say contributions don’t guarantee they will vote with the industries that bankroll their campaigns. But The Oregonian’s reporting makes a strong case that the dollars have an effect. Despite its reputation as a green state, Oregon has weakened environmental protections or failed to enact new ones. Oregon lags behind most other states in enforcement actions against water polluters, and ranks last on the West Coast on many environmental protections.

In 2006, voters approved limiting donations to $500 for statewide offices and $100 for legislative races. But a companion measure that would have amended the state constitution to allow the limits failed.

Now lawmakers are contemplating a new constitutional amendment to appear on the 2020 ballot, but one that would disqualify the 2006 voter-approved limits and allow lawmakers to set their own limits. Does that idea bother you? It should.

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