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Eugene Weekly : News : 10.19.06

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Getting the Money Out

Measures 46 & 47 backers say they're flustered by campaign of disinformation.

BY TED TAYLOR

Dan Meek is a Portland public interest attorney and tireless advocate for campaign finance reform in Oregon. He's accustomed to fighting utilities and other big corporations, but now he's facing new and unexpected opponents: a group of progressive, nonprofit organizations that have come out in opposition to his Measures 46 and 47. He figures these groups have fallen under the influence of a union-backed campaign of disinformation. And it happened while he was busy fighting, and winning, a protracted lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, challenging the supermajority provision required of the Legislature to tweak Measure 47.

Dan Meek
Damiana Merryweather

Measure 46 in effect overturns a 1997 Oregon Supreme Court ruling that the Oregon Constitution does not allow any limits on political contributions in any race for state or public office. The measure would amend the Constitution to allow limits on campaign contributions in Oregon.

Measure 47 is a companion statute that would enact a comprehensive system of campaign finance reform with provisions similar to those of Washington state and 44 other states. Oregon's version of campaign finance reform would ban all corporate contributions and limit individual contributions to $500 in statewide races and $100 in non-statewide races. Unions and other organizations would still be able to raise money for candidates through small donor committees, but the donors would be limited to $50 each per year.

Why do we need such reforms? Meek, chief spokesman for the measures, says political spending is out of control in Oregon, and corporations have pumped more than $20 million into legislative races in the past two election cycles, massively outspending unions and other groups and causes. The result over time, he says, is a corporation-friendly Legislature. In 1975 corporations paid 18 percent of Oregon's income taxes; today, they pay about 4 percent.

Organizations opposed to or neutral on the measures include the ACLU, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, Oregon League of Conservation Voters and several unions. Organizations supporting the measures include the Sierra Club, OSPIRG, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Pacific Green Party, Alliance for Democracy and Health Care for All Oregon. Politicians are lining up both pro and con.

Meek defended the measures at a City Club of Eugene luncheon Oct. 13, debating with union spokeswoman Damiana Merryweather.

"For campaign finance reform to be effective," Merryweather said, "it must be clear, concise and compelling, and these measures are none of those three things. I've been studying these measures for the past three weeks and I still have difficulty comprehending what all the requirements would be. You shouldn't have to be a lawyer to understand and comply with the law."

Meek countered with, "Damiana says she cannot understand the provisions of the measures. I dare say that she would not be able to understand the provisions of the measures in effect in 45 other states as well. That's why we have lawyers."

This point may be key in whether Measures 46 and 47 pass. A big challenge for Meek is getting voters to understand what he and co-sponsor Harry Lonsdale are trying to do in plugging as many loopholes as possible with legal language. They are also trying to show that the provisions in these measures are not that different from existing federal elections laws and laws in other states. Meek says the precise legal language in the measures is getting translated into numerous "false and misleading" statements about the impact of the measures.

"Measure 46 would eliminate from the Oregon Constitution any guarantees that you and I have to participate in impacting the outcome of any election through contributions or expenses," said Merryweather. "Once we give away any of our rights to free speech, we will not get them back."

Meek says the free speech argument holds no water since individual free speech is currently being drowned out by corporate paid speech, "and our measures will have no effect on 99.98 percent of Oregonians." He says only 1 percent of registered voters make political contributions, and only 2 to 3 percent of those are $50 for individuals or $100 for couples. The rest are much larger, and most come from corporations or business owners.

"Take out the small contributions below a couple of hundred bucks and most candidates won't miss them at all, because that's not where they get their money," he says. "Our system is incredibly top-heavy."

The two measures were analyzed in detail by the nonpartisan Money in Politics Research Action Project (www.followthemoney.org).The group's detailed report outlines the need for campaign finance reform but voices concern that some provisions might not survive court challenges: "Limits on independent expenditures by individuals in Measure 47 push the legal envelope and are constitutionally vulnerable."

Measure 47 can be altered by the courts for by the Legislature with a 75 percent majority vote of both houses. Meek justifies the supermajority provision, saying that under a simple majority vote, the current corporate-friendly Legislature would gut Measure 47 the first chance it gets.

More information pro and con is available at www.fairelections.netand www.protectourvoice.org

 

 





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