Supporters of a campaign finance reform bill have filed suit in Marion County Circuit Court to require Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and Attorney General of Oregon Hardy Myers to enforce the provisions of a statewide ballot measure approved by Oregon voters last November.
"The voters of Oregon adopted campaign finance reform in November," said attorney Linda Williams, "but the two government officials who are required to implement the reform are refusing to do so."
On Nov. 17, Bradbury issued a letter stating his intent not to implement Ballot Measure 47, although voters approved it in the November general election.
Bradbury's letter said he had been advised by Myers not to enforce the measure.
Ballot Measure 47 was paired with Ballot Measure 46, which called for an amendment to the state constitution that would have permitted changes in the state campaign financing laws. Voters defeated Measure 46, however, and that defeat called into question how Measure 47 could be enacted without an enabling amendment.
In 1997, the Oregon Supreme Court tossed out Ballot Measure 9, a campaign finance reform measure passed by voters in 1994, on the basis that it violated the constitution's guarantee of free speech.
Measure 47 enacts a comprehensive system of campaign finance reform for candidate elections. It bans all corporations, labor union treasuries and other entities from making contributions in candidate campaigns.
In addition, Measure 47 allows any individual United States citizen to contribute up to $2,500 per year to candidates for state or local office, to Oregon political committees and to Oregon political parties, as specifically set out in the measure.
Measure 47 also bans all "independent expenditures" by corporations and unions, similar to the federal McCain-Feingold Act in 2002. Independent expenditures by individuals are limited to $10,000 per person per year, and each advertisement financed by such expenditures must disclose the names of the top five contributors to the campaign, the businesses they are engaged in and the amounts they have contributed.
However, the state constitution currently does not limit how much anyone can contribute to campaigns.
A plaintiff in the case, Portland attorney Dan Meek, said Measure 47's provisions could not be disregarded.
"The letter assumes that all of the limits on political contributions are unconstitutional, without any judicial determination of that conclusion," Meek said.
The letter, he said, "simply assumes that a court has determined that all of Measure 47 is unconstitutional. No such court decision exists."
"It is the duty of government officers to enforce what the voters enacted," said Ken Lewis, former president of the Port of Portland and one of the plaintiffs.
Meek said at least six provisions in Measure 47 call for stricter campaign finance reporting and disclosure "for which there is no question of constitutionality."
Those six provisions are:
• Every campaign advertisement funded by "independent expenditures" must prominently disclose the top five contributors to the "independent" campaign, the businesses they are engaged in and the amounts contributed by each of them.
•Every candidate who spends more than $5,000 of personal money on a campaign for public office must disclose in every subsequent campaign ad the amount of personal money being spent on the campaign.
•Every contributor of $500-plus per year must obtain a "handle" from the Secretary of State, so that his or her future contributions can be more accurately recorded.
• The secretary of state must "make available on the Internet in an interactive database format all contribution and expenditure reports" within five business days of receiving the data.
• No employer can force or reward an employee for making or not making a campaign contribution. Violations would amount to at least $50,000 per incident.
• Campaign contributions not used in the campaign would revert to the state treasury to help pay for the Voters' Pamphlet. Such funds cannot be amassed in "war chests" and then used in a subsequent election or to support or oppose some other candidate later.
Meek claimed that Measure 47 differs from the 12-year-old Ballot Measure 9, and he questioned Bradbury's implicit conclusion that the strict limits on campaign contributions in Measure 47 would be struck down as inconsistent with the Oregon Constitution.
While enactment of Measure 46 would have eliminated any debate on this subject, Meek noted, there is no ruling from any court that any part of Measure 47 is unconstitutional.