Outside money is undermining local political control

In an effort to portray herself as the down-home candidate in her contest against Democrat Sarah Gideon, Republican Senator Susan Collins sent out a text message on Oct. 21 saying Gideon has more donors from Portland, OR than Portland, ME. As of mid-October 2020, Gideon’s out-of-state contributions, $41.8 million, represented 92.3% of her total contributions.

Collins neglected to mention that 91.80 % ($11.9 million) of the donations she’s received during 2019-20 have come from outside Maine, according to OpenSecrets.org, the website of the Center for Responsive Politics. That made her one of the top 10 senate recipients of contributions outside of their state during that period.

Think about that. The winner of a critical Maine Senate race that could determine which party controls the Senate may well be determined by people who don’t even live in Maine.

Political races across the country are increasingly being funded by people from other places.

In today’s contentious political campaigns, out-of-state contributions overwhelmingly dominate the higher end of fundraising for Democrats and Republicans. It’s part of the nationalization of all politics in the United States.

In Oregon, the strongest evidence of out-of-state influence on a campaign is in the race between incumbent Democrat Congressman Peter DeFazio and Republican Alek Skarlatos. Out-of-state residents have contributed 41.9% of the money raised by DeFazio; for Skarlatos, the out-of-state share is 68.6%, according to OpenSecrets.org.

DeFazio (L) vs. Skarlatos

Out-of-state money is also playing an increasingly important role in ballot measure battles.

In Oregon, the key backer of Measure 110 on the 2020 ballot is Drug Policy Action, a New York City-based 501(c)(4) nonprofit advocacy group that supports marijuana legalization and more lenient punishments for drug possession, use, and sale.

The group is the advocacy and political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit that was also behind Oregon’s 2014 measure legalizing recreational cannabis.

The Drug Policy Alliance has received major funding from billionaire investor George Soros, has long been involved in pushing for an end the legal war on drugs.

The next largest contributor is the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative of Palo Alto, CA, which has contributed $500,000. The Initiative is a charity established by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.

Out-of-state political contributions come from companies with local interests, networks of politically aligned people scattered across the country, and liberal and conservative national groups mobilizing to influence state-level elections.

Oregon tried to limit out-of-district political contributions in 1994 through Ballot Measure 6, which amended the state constitution to allow candidates to ”use or direct only contributions which originate from individuals who at the time of their donation were residents of the electoral district of the public office sought by the candidate.” (Oregon Constitution Art. II, § 22). The measure imposed a 10 percent cap on the total amount of money a candidate could accept from contributors residing outside the district.

When the measure went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the state  asserted two interests, preventing the appearance of corruption and ensuring a republican form of government, as justifications for the out-of-district ban. The state could restrict out-of-district residents’ right to vote in the district, the court held, but could not restrict such residents’ right to express themselves about the election, including by contributing money.

In August 1998, the court struck down the Oregon ballot initiative in a 2-1 decision (VanNatta v. Keisling, 151 F.3d 1215 9th Cir.1998).

“Who should really have a say in how each state is run?”, asks Dan Weiner, senior counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.  “It used to be that, at least at the state level, the interests of constituents vastly outweighed any interests coming from elsewhere around the country. But that’s no longer true to some extent because of the proliferation of the campaign finance free-for-all.”

Memo to Oregon’s Congressional Delegation: Pay Your Interns

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Every summer, it’s a deluge. Thousands of eager students descend on Washington, D.C. to intern in Congress. It’s the perfect opportunity to see first-hand how the legislative process works, a good way to get a foot in the door in politics and often gives ambitious young people a leg up in their careers.

Some of those ambitious young people end up working for members of Oregon’s congressional delegation, all of whom talk incessantly about the need to prepare students for the future, support equality of opportunity and encourage the creation of good jobs.

So what are they paying their interns?

Zero. Zip. Not one thin dime. Not one red cent.

Money Magazine estimates it will cost an intern a minimum of $5300 to spend a summer interning away from home when you factor in air travel, rent, transportation, clothes and food.

This means a good number of young people simply can’t afford to intern in Congress.

One result? Low-income Oregonians having to choose between a career enhancing internship for an Oregon member of Congress and a summer job with a house painting company may have little choice if they need to make money.

That means students from well-off families can afford to take a career-building unpaid internship, but not the kid from an average family struggling to deal with potentially crippling college loan debt. That perpetuates inequality.

The situation has become so acute that some former Congressional interns have even formed an organization, Pay Our Interns, to advocate for paid internships. “A student’s socioeconomic status should not be a barrier to getting real-world work experience,” the group says.

Here’s a chance for Greg Walden, the lone Republican in Oregon’s congressional delegation, to get things rolling and show some leadership by instituting a paid internship program.

So do the right thing, folks. Pay your interns. You’ll all be the better for it.

 

 

 

DeFazio and Schrader: are they vulnerable in 2018?

What are they smoking?

That was my first thought when I learned Republicans think Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) will be vulnerable in 2018.

The National Republican Congressional Committee’s Chairman Steve Stivers announced on Feb. 8 that DeFazio and Schrader would be among the party’s initial 36 offensive targets in the House of Representatives for the 2018 midterm elections.

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Rep. Peter DeFazio

The Committee’s goal is to keep Republicans in control of the House

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Rep. Kurt Schrader

so they can pursue their agenda in areas such as healthcare reform, a stronger national defense, and job growth.

DeFazio has represented Oregon’s 4th Congressional District since 1987. The district, in the southwest portion of Oregon, includes Coos, Curry, Douglas, Lane, and Linn counties and parts of Benton and Josephine counties.

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Oregon’s 4th District

In his first race, DeFazio won with 54.3 percent of the vote. He won his next 16 races with comfortable leads, with a high of 85.8 percent in 1990 and a low of 54.6 percent in 2010. After a 2011 re-districting gave Democrat-heavy Corvallis to the 4th district, DeFazio won 59.1- 39 percent.

Democrats figured the Corvallis shift guaranteed DeFazio a permanent seat and his seat did seem safe when he won in 2014 with 58.6 percent and in 2016 with 55.5 percent.

Further hurting Republicans has been their failure to put up a strong opponent.

With a weak bench, the Republicans have run the same man, Art Robinson, against DeFazio in each of the past four elections. You’d think they would have learned. The first time, 2010, Robinson lost by 10 points, the second time by 20, the third by 21, the fourth by almost 16.

So, is DeFazio really vulnerable as the National Republican Congressional Committee believes? Maybe.

Consider how Donald Trump did in DeFazio’s district.

Trump handily defeated Hillary Clinton in Coos, Curry, Douglas, Linn and Josephine counties. In Douglas county, Trump racked up 64.6 percent of the vote versus Clinton’s 26.3 percent.

Hillary carried only two liberal enclaves, Lane County, home of the University of Oregon, and part of Benton County, home of Oregon State University, but that was enough.

In the end, Hillary barely carried the 4th District with just 46.1 percent of the vote versus Trump’s 46 percent, a margin of just 554 votes.

That suggests the Republican problem is their candidate and his/her messaging, not the dominance of Democrats.

If the Republicans could recruit a strong moderate candidate able to make persuasive arguments, DeFazio could be in trouble.

As for Schrader, he has represented Oregon’s 5th Congressional District since 2008. The district, in the northwestern portion of Oregon, includes Lincoln, Marion, Polk, and Tillamook counties as well as portions of Benton, Clackamas, and Multnomah counties.

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Oregon’s 5th District

In his first race, Schrader won with 54 percent of the vote. He won his subsequent races with 51.3 percent, 54 percent, 53.7 percent, and 53.5 percent. In 2011, the Oregon State Legislature approved a new map of congressional districts based on updated population information from the 2010 census, but it hasn’t had a meaningful impact on Schrader.

In 2016, Trump took Marion, Polk and Tillamook counties. Clinton carried Lincoln, Benton, Clackamas, and Multnomah counties, winning heavily populated Multnomah 73.3 to 17 percent. In the end, Clinton carried the 5th District with 48.3 percent of the vote versus Trump’s 44.1 percent.

Schrader’s winning margins to date have been consistent and comfortable, but not breathtaking. They would likely have been higher without the presence of multiple other party candidates in the general elections, who have been draining principally liberal votes. In 2016, for example, the Pacific Green Party took 3.4 percent of the votes. In 2014, three other parties captured a total of 6.7 percent of the vote.

Although voter registration trends aren’t consistently matching actual election trends, Schrader’s district is becoming increasingly Democratic, though also more non-affiliated.

In Nov. 2012, there were 158,885 registered Democrats, 148,464 Republicans and 89,539 non-affiliated voters in the district. By Nov. 2016, it had shifted to 176,868 registered Democrats, 155,430 registered Republicans and 135,233 non-affiliated voters.

Is Schrader as vulnerable as the National Republican Congressional Committee believes? I don’t think so. Even though he’s been in Congress fewer terms than DeFazio, his district is likely safer for a Democrat, and becoming more so.

How about DeFazio?

I know, he’s been in office for 30 years and just keeps rolling along, seemingly invincible. But I think he’s more vulnerable than he looks. He hasn’t so much been winning as the Republicans have been losing with uninspiring, ideologically rigid candidates.

My advice to the National Republican Congressional Committee. Don’t divide your limited resources in an effort to capture both seats. Instead, focus on finding a strong moderate candidate to run against DeFazio in 2018, building a war chest sufficient for a credible race and running a sophisticated campaign.

Dennis Richardson showed a Republican can win in Oregon. If the right things fall in place, the 4th District could be next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

United Streetcar and Earl Blumenauer’s misplaced boosterism

Only a politician would want to throw good money after bad, arguing that a failed company should get MORE federal dollars.

The Washington Post, in a Nov. 29 story picked up by both Willamette Week and the Portland Business Journal, told of how Portland’s United Streetcar, supposedly destined to reinvigorate the U.S. streetcar business, failed miserably.

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In 2005, Oregon’s own Rep. Peter DeFazio (D) secured $4 million for Portland to buy an American-made streetcar. The contract went to Clackamas-based United Streetcar, a company founded that year, “Leading the way for today’s urban transport needs,” the company’s website says.

United Streetcar was formed in December 2005. It is a subsidiary of Oregon Iron Works, Inc., which recently became a division of Vigor Industrial.

Despite White House cheerleading, United Streetcar became a symbol of ineptitude, with frequent missed deadlines and cost overruns. It ended up building just 18 streetcars for three customers, and still couldn’t deliver them on time. According to the Post, the company has no new orders and the facility built to produce up to 24 streetcars a year is dormant.

But Blumenauer, arguing that the U.S. needs to make streetcars and not give the business to foreigners, wants the government to double down. Specifically, he wants the Feds to order 500 or 1,000 streetcars and give some U.S. companies a shot at making 50 or 100 each.

“That would get production humming,” Blumenauer told the Post.

Does he even remember the United Streetcar fiasco, or care?

In a classic instance of the Peter Principle at work, in August 2010, President Obama appointed Chandra Brown, President of United Streetcar, to the Department of Commerce Manufacturing Council. “Throughout her career, Chandra Brown has demonstrated how good leadership can allow smart companies to do well on the bottom line, do right by their employees, and do good for the country,” said Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR).

Chandra Brown

Chandra Brown

Then, in March 2013, President Obama again helped Brown fail upwards again by appointing her Deputy Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

I guess Blumenauer figures that if Brown can mess up and move up, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t help United Streetcar do the same.