What do Tom Steyer of San Francisco (and Lake Tahoe and Pescadero) and Michael Bloomberg of New York (and Bermuda, London, Colorado and Florida) have to do with Oregon politics? A lot it turns out.
Their money helped the Democrats strengthen their hold on the Oregon Senate and potentially push through controversial environmental and gun control legislation.
Bloomberg is the billionaire co-founder of Bloomberg L.P., a privately held financial software, data and media company based in New York City, and a former mayor of New York City.
Steyer is a billionaire who co-founded the $21 billion Farallon Capital Management fund. He spent an estimated $65 million this election through his NextGen Climate political action committee (PAC) to help candidates who support the need to deal with climate change.
Steyer spent $8.5 million in Colorado to help Democrat Sen. Mark Udall in his losing race against Republican Cory Gardner.
He also spent $11 million in Iowa to help Democrat Bruce Braley in his losing Senate race against Republican Joni Ernst.
His ambitions in Oregon were considerably more modest, but could still have a big impact. Here his NextGen PAC spent $130,000 to help Democrat Chuck Riley in his race against Republican State Senator Bruce Starr and Democrat Sara Gelser in her Senate race against Republican Betsy Close.
Riley defeated Starr in a squeaker by just 221 votes, 17,930 to 17,709; Gelser handily defeated Close by 27,375 to 21,571.
Riley’s campaign finance report doesn’t show any contributions from Streyer’s out-of-state PAC. That’s because the PAC donated the money to the Oregon League of Conservation Voters (OLCV) PAC, which is for all intents and purposes an arm of the Democratic Party. The in-state OLCV PAC then used the funds to support Riley, giving him a total of $191,120.02.
To further bolster the Democrat’s cause, Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action Committee also gave $100,000 to the Democratic Party of Oregon.
Gelser’s campaign finance report doesn’t show any contributions from Streyer’s out-of-state PAC either, but it does show $76,755.36 from the OLCV.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg’s EveryTown for Gun Safety Action Fund sent $75,000 to Riley’s campaign, as well as $250,000 to Gov. Kitzhaber and $50,000 to the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund.
Everytown for Gun Safety was created earlier this year by combining a Bloomberg-backed group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a movement that grew out of the Newtown shootings in 2012. The two groups have been working together since December.
Did the Steyer and Bloomberg money make a difference?
According to filings with the Oregon Secretary of State, Riley raised a total of $891,153.99 for his campaign and Starr a total of $901,097.63. That means a significant portion of Riley’s campaign money came just from Steyer and Bloomberg.
Add whatever impact Steyer’s $100,000 donation to the Democratic Party of Oregon had on Riley’s race and these two out-of-staters likely played a huge role in Riley’s victory.
According to filings with the Oregon Secretary of State, Gelser raised a total of $843,711.67 for her campaign. Of that, $76,755.36 came from the OLCV. Close raised significantly less, $556,628.14.
The Steyer/OLCV money probably didn’t play as much of a key role in Gelser’s victory, but it surely helped expand her advantage.
Oregon tried to limit the influence of out-of-state campaign contributions in 1994 when it passed Ballot Measure 6 that amended the Oregon Constitution to limit out-of-district contributions to 10 percent of the total. But a federal appeals court ruled in 1998 that the limit violated the First Amendment and was unconstitutional.
So expect more of the same in future Oregon elections, and then some.