Advocates Say Campaign Finance Reform Key to Health Industry Changes

A constitutional amendment sitting in the Senate Rules Committee would put limits on campaign contributions

Healthcare advocates say a bill making its way through the Legislature that would allow Oregonians to put limits on campaign contributions is key to reforming the health industry.

Senate Joint Resolution 5 would amend the Oregon Constitution, allowing Oregonians and the Legislature the option of setting campaign contribution limits, and is awaiting action by the Senate Rules Committee.

“The people are asking for campaign finance reform and they’re asking for campaign contribution limits,” said Daniel Lewkow, political director for Common Cause Oregon. “It all comes down to the same view that money in politics is the reason we don’t have further reform.”

Health professionals were the fifth highest campaign contributor among Oregon industries in 2014, giving $1.98 million, according to Hospitals and nursing homes were not far behind, contributing $1.48 million.

Constitutional challenge

Although campaign contributions are transparent, Oregon’s constitution places no limits on campaign contributions. Officials might recognize issues with big money in politics, Lewkow said, but nothing can be done until the constitution is amended. “The legalities at this point can’t even consider responding to the disclosure.”

In 2006, for example, Oregonians approved a ballot measure on campaign contribution limits but failed to approve the constitutional amendment to enact any limits. “Oregonians have many many times supported the ideas of contribution limits,” Lewkow said.

Equal footing

Supporters of the constitutional change say campaign finance reform is essential to leveling the playing field between those with deep pockets and those without.

“AARP as an organization has always supported campaign finance reform,” said Jon Bartholomew, government relations director.

Many of AARP’s members are low-income seniors who vote but can’t contribute like a large corporation or company.

“We need to make sure that our voice is heard as loudly as those folks,” he said.

“When you write a large check it gets you access. That’s one of the things that’s a flaw with the existing system.”

Rick North, former executive vice president of the American Cancer Society of Oregon, saw firsthand the impact of big money when he went up against tobacco companies in 1996. Advocates were outspent 6 to 1 in their push for a 30 cent cigarette tax increase.

“It was my introduction into big time politics,” he said. It was an eye-opening experience.”

Although the ballot measure to raise the tax passed, North said the American Cancer Society had to spend a large chunk of money.

“We had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in staff time and money,” he said.

“We threw the whole organization into it, and this money could have been spent on cancer research. It could have been spent on education to help detect cancer early.”

It’s unfair not to limit campaign contributions, North said. Otherwise, it gives the message that your voice can’t be heard unless you make a contribution.

“It’s just too bad,” he said. You have to fight this battle, and so often the playing field is uneven. Corporate money is going to drown out public interest money. Their megaphone is a lot bigger than ours.”

Setting limits

Common Cause is also pushing another bill, Senate Bill 75, which is also sitting in the Senate Rules Committee – it would set campaign contribution limits. The exact number is being worked out but could be close the federal limit of $2,600 for an individual contribution, Lewkow said.

Bartholomew said the AARP is a fan of clean election models where there is either a public funding match or full public financing for campaigns, and wants a longer conversation about what campaign contribution limits.

Setting the right limit is tricky, Lewkow said, because you want to ensure it’s not too low and ineffective or too high so that big money takes over.

Advocates say the impact of campaign finance reform could be huge not just for the health industry but for many issues pressing the state.

“I think it would really change the whole political dynamic around issues where special political interests are trying to block progress when the majority of the public agrees something needs to happen,” said Jesse O’Brien, OSPIRG healthcare advocate.

Campaign contributors

Here’s a look at some of the largest campaign contributions by the healthcare industry I the 2014 election.

Top Oregon industry contributors 2014

Uncoded: $12,701,486

Party Committees: $5,267,989

Public Sector Unions: $2,938,125

Unitemized Contributions: $2,433,992

Health professionals: $1,989,416

General Trade unions: $1,932,202

Lawyers and Lobbyists: $1,611,419

Miscellaneous Manufacturing & Distributing: $1,507,791

Hospitals and Nursing homes: $1,482,515

Candidate Committees: $1,366,201

Forestry and Forest products: $1,252,470

Top Health Contributors 2014[{1|gro=d-eid

Mercola Health Resources: $1,075,000

Contributed to:

  • Vote Yes on 92: $700,000
  • Oregon Right to Know: $350,000
  • Our Family Farms Coalition: $25,000

Oregon Healthcare Association/ Oregon Center for Assisted Living :$708,733

Examples of contributions:

  • KITZHABER, JOHN $75,000
  • BATES, ALAN C $52,766
  • DEVLIN, RICHARD $48,500
  • COURTNEY, PETER $45,500

Oregon Association of Hospitals & Health Systems: $475,683

Examples of contributions:

  • KITZHABER, JOHN $50,000
  • COURTNEY, PETER $18,500
  • MCLANE, MICHAEL $18,500

Loren Ernest Parks: $473,174

Examples of contributions:

  • Oregon Family Farm Association $100,000

Doctors for Healthy Communities: $363,376


  • KITZHABER, JOHN $40,000
  • BATES, ALAN C $38,438
  • WINTERS, JACKIE $31,250

Oregon Healthcare Enterprises: $275,000


  • Oregon Hospital Political Action Committee: $275,000
  • Low Income Dental: $264,489


  • MCLANE, MICHAEL R (MIKE) $89,000
  • BATES, ALAN C $33,489

Oregon Medical Association: $230,146


  • BATES, ALAN C $26,787
  • COURTNEY, PETER $22,500
  • BUEHLER, KNUTE $16,708

Douglas County Physicians: $225,479


  • KITZHABER, JOHN $40,000
  • BATES, ALAN C $31,938
  • DEVLIN, RICHARD $24,250

Oregon Dental Association: $215,457


  • KITZHABER, JOHN $25,000
  • KOTEK, TINA $12,500

Shelby can be reached at [email protected]

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