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Unions and Statewide Healthcare Groups Spend a Combined $3 Million on Legislative Campaigns

While public sector unions spent heavily on competitive elections, other organizations like the Oregon Health Care Association targeted its money toward influencing legislation.
September 12, 2013

September 12, 2013 -- A review of the major Oregon healthcare organizations and unions shows these players made healthy contributions to political campaigns, influencing elections and legislation over the past three years.

The disparate groups spent over $3 million combined on legislative elections, and each spent more than $200,000.


Amount spent on state elections

Oregon Health Care Association




Oregon Education Association


Oregon Nurses Association




Oregon Medical Association


Oregon Assn. of Hospitals & Health Systems




The Oregon Health Care Association led these groups, spending about $730,000, which was spread across the Legislature and focused primarily on politicians in safer seats who won elections. The organization, which represents long-term care facilities, favored the majority Democrats, but gave large amounts to Republicans as well.

Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay and Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, both received about $46,000 from the organization; the House Democratic caucus took in about $39,000 while the OHCA gave $36,000 to Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem and $29,000 to Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend.

Both Roblan and Monnes Anderson had relatively competitive races, while Knopp sits on the Senate Health Committee.

The financial backing doubtless helped OHCA President Jim Carlson as he diligently shepherded through a complex extension of the long-term assessment tax, which helped the state Medicaid system remain solvent for low-income senior citizens. With the blessing of the Legislature, the 2013-15 Department of Human Services budget also increased payments to providers of his organization.

Hospitals and Doctors

The Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems and the Oregon Medical Association each gave about a quarter of a million dollars to Oregon lawmakers, roughly the same amount that Regence BlueCross BlueShield spent.

All of the data for this article was compiled from the Oregon Secretary of State website; an earlier article disclosed the $500,000 combined contributions of drug companies.

Most Oregon hospitals are prohibited by their non-profit status from giving directly to partisan campaigns, but $246,000 was spent through their trade organization.

The money broke almost evenly along party lines and was directed largely at party leadership, who can make or break legislation. House Majority Leader Val Hoyle, D-Eugene topped their list at $15,000, followed by House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, with $11,000. Senate President Peter Courtney received $9,000.

The hospitals’ top GOP recipients were Bend Rep. Jason Conger, $9,500; West Linn Rep. Julie Parrish, $9,000 and Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, $9,000.

Conger sat on the Health Committee, often siding with the St. Charles Health System on controversial legislation such as safe patient handling for nurses or the bad actor bill that targeted Salem Health. Parrish held off a challenger in her suburban Portland district by just 1200 votes.

The hospital association had backed a number of losing Republican candidates in the Portland metro area before the 2012 election, only to contribute to the victorious Democrats after the election, including those candidates it tried to defeat as well as the House and Senate leadership — possibly as a way to make amends and still influence legislation.

The Oregon Medical Association’s top beneficiaries were the Democratic leadership, with Courtney receiving $14,000 and Hoyle $11,000. The organization also championed one of its own, Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, a medical doctor, with $9,500 and gave $9,000 to Senate Health Committee Chairwoman Laurie Monnes Anderson.

Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, an osteopathic physician who oversees the state human services budget, received $8,000.

The OMA gave much less to Republicans, but Rep. Andy Olson of Albany and Rep. Bruce Hanna of Sutherlin each received more than $5,000.

Nurses Association

The Oregon Nurses Association spent $333,000 and heavily favored Democrats such as Monnes Anderson ($34,000); Rep. Ben Unger, D-Hillsboro ($22,000) and Rep. Shemia Fagan, D-Clackamas ($21,000).

The ONA’s money was integral in helping Unger and Fagan knock off incumbent Republicans in close races while Monnes Anderson’s support helped them push through the nurse practitioner pay parity law this session. They fell short, however, in getting a nurse safe handling bill passed under opposition from the hospital association.

Other Democrats to receive top billing were Roblan with $16,500 and Rep. Brent Barton of Gladstone with $15,000. Barton’s race was the closest of the 2012 races as he knocked off Steve Newgard (who was supported by Regence and the hospital association) by just 304 votes.

The nurses also gave considerable support to two Republicans — Olson ($5,000) and Parrish ($7,500).

Public Employee Unions

The public employee unions are in a league of their own when it comes to campaign spending. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees spent $1.2 million on elections — but just $270,000 of that was in legislative races.

The Oregon Education Association spent $1.7 million, but similarly, $670,000 was on legislative candidates.

The Service Employees International Union spent money in several different ways, giving on its own through its two main locals, 49 and 503, as well as creating a political action committee called Citizen Action for Political Education.

All totaled, SEIU was responsible for $2.2 million in spending, but of that just $699,000 was earmarked for legislative races, just shy of the total contributions of OHCA.

Moderate GOP Rep. Bob Jenson of Pendleton, a former Democrat, was the only Republican to receive any significant spending from any of the public-sector unions, receiving $5,000 from AFSCME.

Otherwise the unions, tasked with protecting the Public Employees Retirement System and influencing decisions regarding the Public Employees Benefit Board and the Oregon Educators Benefit Board, gave major contributions heavily to the Democrats.

AFSCME’s top lawmaker was Unger, with $20,000; the union then gave $19,000 to the House Democrats and $17,000 to the Senate Democrats.

The OEA spent a whopping $92,000 to get Rep. Chris Gorsek of Troutdale elected in east Multnomah County. Barton received $45,000 in Clackamas County and Unger took in $41,000 as he won his race in Washington County.

SEIU, which represents healthcare workers such as certified nursing assistants and homecare workers, in addition to state employees, gave $112,000 directly to the House Democratic caucus; it spent $23,000 to get Rep. Joe Gallegos elected in Hillsboro, as well as $13,000 for Fagan in Clackamas. Kotek also received $17,000.

SEIU’s Citizen Action for Political Education spent $35,000 on Roblan; $33,000 on Gorsek and $26,000 on Carl Hosticka, in a failed attempt to knock off Parrish in West Linn. Monnes Anderson also received $23,000 from CAPE as well as another $13,000 directly from SEIU.

The union’s support was doubtlessly key in curtailing the more far-reaching efforts to cut back on pensions, but SEIU failed in its lobby to improve the health insurance rate review process in the individual market after Monnes Anderson backed the position of Regence over its own.

In subsequent analysis, The Lund Report will look at contributions from physicians and dental groups as well as the top legislative candidates receiving contributions from a wide range of sources.