Who owns Chuck Riley?

Democrat Chuck Riley’s defeat of Republican Bruce Starr on Nov. 4 for Oregon’s 15th District Senate seat cost a ton of money. Now, like a company that’s gone public, his key supporters are going to expect a return on their investments.

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As of Dec. 8, 2014, Riley’s campaign committee, Friends of Chuck Riley, had raised $913,372.33 and spent $889,757.01, according to records on file with the Oregon Secretary of State. The onslaught of campaign cash was so great that the contest ended up being the most expensive state Senate race in Oregon history.

But it was also a very tight race, with Riley finally coming in ahead by just 287 votes out of 39,734 cast. Likely costing Starr the race was the Libertarian candidate, Caitlin Mitchel-Markley, who captured 3,593 votes.

That suggests the next race will be hard fought as well, particularly if no 3rd party candidate runs, and that it will again require a substantial war chest. To create that war chest Riley will have to placate some big givers. After all, it was the big givers who filled his coffers, not the little people.
So who does Chuck Riley owe for his victory?

The biggest cash/in-kind contributors to Friends of Chuck Riley were Riley’s own Democratic Party, unions, a climate change activist, trial lawyers, and two national gun control groups.

The money from the Democratic Party came from two groups, the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund ($174,585.50)
and the Democratic Party of Oregon ($107,577.56), which received significant contributions from some of the same characters as Riley’s committee.

For example, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control group, Everytown for Gun Safety, donated $75,000 directly to Friends of Chuck Riley and $50,000 to the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund.

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg

Riley’s committee also pulled in $10,000 from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Other big contributors to Riley’s Committee included:

• Service Employees International Union (SEIU) $204,460.39

This includes: $193,661.96 from Citizen Action for Political Education of SEIU Local 503; $10,798.43 from Committee on Political Education of SEIU Local 49.

seiu

• Oregon League of Conservation Voters PAC $191,120.02

OLCV made an in-kind contribution of $127,498.50 in the form of a TV ad. The balance was in the form of: cash; in-kind field work, postage, preparation and production of advertising and a phone program. The TV ad money came out of a $130,000.00 contribution to OLCV from NextGen Climate Action Committee, established by billionaire Tom Steyer to help candidates who support the need to deal with climate change.

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• Oregon Trial Lawyers Association PAC $38,477.87

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• Oregon American Federation of State, County
and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 75
Political Soft $17,500.00

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• Oregon Education Association – People for
Improvement of Education $8,342.00

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• Other unions $10,500.00

Joint Council of Teamsters No. 37 Political Fund
$1,750

United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local
555
$4,500

Oregon School Employees Association – Voice of
Involved Classified Employees
$1,000

International Union of Operating Engineers, Local
701 Misc PAC
$250

American Federation of Teachers-Oregon Candidate
PAC
$3,000

All of the above contributions totaled $752,563.34. That’s 85 percent of total expenditures by Riley’s committee.

Compare that with the amount that came in from contributors of $100 or less, about $8000. That’s less than 1 percent of total expenditures by Riley’s committee. Even if all the small contributors had bundled their money in an effort to enhance their potential influence, they would have been a small player. They might as well have spent their money on a nice dinner out.

So, how are we going to know the influence of the big donors on Riley? It’s not going to be easy.

First of all, it’s not clear that the size of Riley’s war chest was the key determinant in his victory. There’s no hard evidence of a constant linear linkage between campaign money and victory, although a candidate does need enough money to deliver key messages to critical audiences.

But now that Riley has been elected, the major donors are likely to influence positions Riley takes.Equally important, large donations to Riley are likely to give certain interests better access to him to influence public policy in general.

Big donors will also probably have an ability to influence the shape and specifics of legislation that’s before Riley much earlier in the legislative process, when it’s harder for the public to detect.

Large donations may also carry the day on critical votes where Riley’s one vote for or against can determine the fate of a bill. “These low salience critical votes present the most likely circumstances for members to repay groups for their financial support,” according to Lynda Powell at the University of Rochester in a paper on The Influence of Campaign Contributions on Legislative Policy.

One thing is clear – the big donors are going to be keeping an eye on Riley, just like big investors keep an eye on the stock market. All investments carry some risk, but the reward for risk can be a great return.

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Climate change and guns: the long arms of out-of-state billionaires reach into the Oregon Senate

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.

Michael Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg

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.

Tom Steyer

Tom Steyer

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.
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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.