Oregon Legislature Considers Small Donor Elections Bill
The Oregon Legislature is only in session for a matter of weeks this year, and in that short time, legislators have a big item on the agenda: Small Donor Elections.
State Representative Dan Rayfield introduced the Small Donor Elections bill, House Bill 4076, to ensure every voice matters in Oregon politics by empowering small donors.
Just like in the rest of the country, big donors dominate statewide elections in Oregon, drowning out the voices of everyday Oregonians. During the 2016 election, just 25 of the state’s biggest donors contributed a jaw-dropping six times more than all small donors combined, a recent OSPIRG report found.
Unsurprisingly, big donors are an unrepresentative group of people. They tend to be white, wealthy, and male—and hold views that are out of step with the general public. Candidates need money to fund their campaigns and get the word out about why they are running for office, yet when such a small, unrepresentative group of people puts up most of the money, they can determine who runs and wins office and shape the priorities elected leaders pursue when in office.
Small Donor Elections would add balance to state elections by giving candidates for legislative offices the option to run without big money by entering into a voluntary alternative to Oregon’s existing campaign finance system. Participating candidates agree to only accept small donations of $250 or less. Once a candidate proves they have strong community support, their small donations are matched six-to-one with public funds so that they have the money they need to run and win. For example, a $25 donation from a teacher in Bend would become $175 for the candidate.
The result is that candidates can spend more time talking to ordinary constituents rather than raising money from affluent ones—and anyone with backing from their community can run for office, no matter if they have access to wealth or wealthy donors.
Last week, the House Rules Committee in the Oregon Legislature held a hearing to discuss the bill—a key step before it can become law. Legislators and community activists testified before the committee in support of the Small Donor Elections Bill.
Rep. Rayfield, testified that “This bill ensures every voice in Oregon will matter, by giving power to small donors and reducing the need of candidates to rely on wealthy special interests.”
In her testimony, Every Voice Legislative Director Susan Mottet compared the possible outcomes of Small Donor Elections in Oregon with the positive trends that have occurred in other places where similar programs exist. “Are these programs diversifying and broadening the donor base? Yes they are, quite dramatically. Are they diversifying public office? … Yes.”
The grassroots coalition backing the bill is made up of organizations on the front lines of advancing the interests of Oregon residents including women, people of color, small businesses, and LGBTQ individuals.
This broad and diverse coalition is counting on their legislators to act. Next, the Oregon House Rules Committee must pass this bill onto the next phase—and time is running out.
Live in Oregon? Let your leaders in Salem know you are counting on them to act to pass Small Donor Elections. Email your legislators now. >>