Pamplin Media Group

Lawmakers tackle campaign contribution legislation

SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown testified in late April in support of legislation to cap campaign contributions, which she pushed for when she was secretary of state.

Advocates for campaign finance reform hope that with Brown’s support, they can curb campaign cash in the state, which has repeatedly tried and failed to adopt contribution limits that stick.

Although voters and the Legislature have adopted limits, those were struck down in court.

Oregon is one of six states in the nation with no limits on contributions to candidates’ campaigns, according to the interest group Common Cause, which is lobbying for the contribution limits. Daniel Lewkow, the group’s political director for campaign finance reform in Oregon, said he expects voters to support limits because “we have greater awareness than we ever have of campaign finance issues.”

Many lawmakers also support the limits because they do not want to spend so much time on fundraising, Lewkow said.

‘A better system’

The Legislature does not have authority to limit campaign contributions. One way to change that would be for voters to approve an amendment to Article II of the state Constitution, which covers regulations on elections.

Senate Joint Resolution 5 would refer a constitutional amendment to do just that to voters in the November 2016 general election. Senate Bill 75 would set state campaign contribution limits at the same levels as in federal elections — $2,600 for an individual donor, $5,000 for a political action committee — that would take effect if voters amend the Constitution.

Both bills were heard last week before the Senate Committee on Rules.

Kristen Grainger, communications director for Brown, said the legislation is just a starting point for a conversation about what, if any, limits Oregon should impose on contributions.

“The conversation will be about what is a reasonable limit in Oregon,” Grainger said, adding that the amounts in Senate Bill 75 are “just a starting point for conversation.”

The limits would not stop corporations, unions and other deep-pocketed donors from pouring money into state elections through super PACs and social welfare groups, as they have increasingly done since the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United.

Others were skeptical of the proposal. Senate Republican Leader Sen. Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day) said contribution limits might restrict the ability of businesses to contribute directly to candidates, but they would not rein in the ability of Oregon’s powerful unions to campaign for candidates and spend unlimited amounts on elections via outside groups.

“When somebody talks about getting the big money out of politics, they’re talking about the other guy’s money, not their money,” Ferrioli said.

Ferrioli said Oregon took a different approach than other states, by allowing unlimited contributions but requiring disclosure. “That to me is a better system than trying to outflank the other guy,” Ferrioli said.

House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) echoed Ferrioli’s remarks about transparency, saying Oregon has “good transparency, the best in the country.”

However, Kotek added “I think there’s a growing desire to have limits so maybe that will translate into interest in moving that measure this session.”

Unlimited contributions

Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University, said he does not expect contribution limits will gain much momentum this session, despite the influx of money into some races last fall.

“A lot of conservative money did come in, but not as much as the Bloomberg and Steyer money,” Moore said, referring to billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer. Bloomberg and Steyer funneled money to state Sen. Chuck Riley (D-Hillsboro) and other Oregon candidates in high-profile races last fall, through groups that work on gun control and environmental issues.

Nonetheless, Moore said the unlimited contributions in state elections does not seem like a problem to many Oregonians.

“And if the public thinks about it, they’re thinking of federal elections, not state elections,” Moore said.

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Providence nurses may unionize

With 72 percent of nurses filing cards in support, a union effort is moving forward at Providence's only non-union hospital in the state

For years, nurses at Providence Newberg Medical Center saw it as a point of pride that they were not part of a union.

“We felt we had this great relationship with the administration, we worked together really well,” said Valerie Whitmore, a nurse at Providence for 12 years both at the medical group and at various clinics. “There was that community focus, it just wasn’t something we felt we needed.”

To date the Newberg facility is the only Providence acute care hospital in the state without union representation for its nurses. Soon, though, that could change, as 72 percent of the staff nurses recently filed cards expressing their support for joining the Oregon Nurses Association.

The National Labor Relations Board requires 30 percent of employees to file cards in support, meaning the effort will move forward to a vote with well above the minimum support level.

A number of factors came together leading up to the union effort, with some of them tied to the hospital’s growth over the years.

“We’ve seen a big shift as we’ve gone from a small community-based hospital to more of a corporate model and a lot of the trends we’re seeing have followed that,” Whitmore said. “It’s going to be a challenge for any organization to keep that small-town feel.”

As the facility has grown in both employment and geographical area covered, some nurses have begun to feel less of a voice in the decision-making process at the hospital, she said.

“We found we weren’t being heard like we had in the past,” Whitmore said. “It had been a very open relationship in the past between nurses and management — not only could we go to the administration and say, ‘We need x, y and z,’ but sometimes we didn’t even have to do that. They’d say, ‘Whatever you need to take care of your patients.’”

Nurses have seen that style of management change and more of a top-down decision-making process come in to replace it, Whitmore said.

The hospital administration, however, maintains that the facility’s nurses have an important voice in decision-making at PNMC and that existing channels facilitate this process.

“Providence Newberg has always had an open door policy for all caregivers to engage in open two-way communication,” PNMC spokesperson Mike Antrim said in an email. “We have a history of decision-making through ‘practice councils.’”

The councils are teams of caregivers that work together within the hospital’s departments, Antrim said, with a goal of determining areas of patient care that can be improved and enacting those changes through shared decision-making.

“These councils are in place and active and we be believe they provide a proven model by empowering those directly involved in patient care to implement best practices,” Antrim said.

Still, recent issues have given nurses a sense that their input is not being heard.

One of the specific grievances arose in the birth center, a unit which formerly offered nurses guaranteed hours. Even if the number of patients dropped those nurses came to work and were assigned other tasks, but the guarantee is no longer in effect, said ONA organizer Minh Nguyen.

“Nurses from that department who historically have had that job protection of pay and hours, they started getting sent home when the census was low,” she said. “That’s a struggle. Not to say it’s wrong, but the thing that was difficult is that there was no conversation.”

Antrim said that change took place three years ago, but that nurses were a part of the decision-making process. “Staffing fluctuates based on patient volume high- and low-census days,” he said. “Nurses were involved in establishing this new model when we made the switch in 2012.”

What that involvement in decision-making looks like seems to be at the core of the debate.

“It’s more of a partnership we’re looking for, rather than someone coming in and taking over,” Whitmore said. “Just to be able to participate in the conversation.”

But Providence maintains that the existing model serves to foster direct relationships and open communication and that bringing in union representation would be a barrier.

“If our nurses choose to join a union, we will no longer be able to have direct dialogue with them without a third-party representative,” Antrim said.

A vote to decide whether the union will be formed at the Newberg facility is scheduled for mid-May. In the meantime, both the union and the administration indicate they will continue efforts to spread information, both to the caregivers as well as the wider Newberg community.

“We know this is our community, these are our neighbors and our family and our schoolmates, so we just want the absolute best possible care,” Whitmore said. “I think this is going to be the best way to make sure they continue to get that service.”

ONA has long had familiarity with Providence facilities, dating back over 100 years to 1904 when Providence St. Vincent’s was the first facility to be represented by the union.

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With Democrats in majority, environmental lobby hits hard

Environmental lobbyists are on a roll this year in Oregon.

They notched a big win early in the session when lawmakers passed legislation to make the state’s low-carbon fuel standard permanent. Now, lobbyists for a coalition of groups have turned their focus to bills that would require utilities to stop using power from coal plants by 2025.

That work isn’t cheap.

In 2014, a broad spectrum of environmental groups spent nearly $470,000 on lobbying in Salem, according to EO Media Group/Pamplin Media Group Capital Bureau’s analysis of state lobbying records.

The organizations range from small groups that promote water quality and wildlife issues, to industry organizations that seek incentives for renewable energy and efficiency projects.

Still, spending by the environmental lobby is low compared with other industries. A single energy interest group — the Western States Petroleum Association, which opposed the low-carbon fuel standard — spent just under $360,000 on lobbying in Oregon last year. All interest groups reported spending a total of nearly $27 million on lobbying in the state last year.

“We definitely don’t spend nearly as much money on lobbying,” said Christy Splitt, a registered lobbyist and coordinator for a coalition of environmental groups called the Oregon Conservation Network. “I’m not going out to dinner with legislators, or whatever other people are able to do, spending money on lobbying. I think most of what we spend on lobbying is going to pay people’s salaries.”

The environmental lobby does have several advantages, including strength in numbers and strong support from Democratic lawmakers this session. At least 55 registered lobbyists represent environmental interests in Oregon, and most are employees of the groups they represent and do other work in addition to lobbying. In addition, Splitt said there are pro-environment majorities in both chambers.

Environmentalists did not always enjoy such a strong position in Oregon. The Oregon Conservation Network formed 20 years ago at a time when environmentalists spent a lot of time fighting bills aimed at undermining “good” legislation passed in the 1970s, Splitt said. Republicans had control of the House from 1990 to 2006, and the Senate from 1994 to 2002.

“I think folks were feeling pretty frustrated with bad bills passing,” and decided to create a coalition to focus on shared priorities, Splitt said. “The group organized at the time pretty much played defense.”

A decade ago, the coalition decided to stop playing defense and begin proposing more new legislation. Rhett Lawrence, conservation director for the Oregon chapter of the Sierra Club and a registered lobbyist for the group, said coalition members started to come up with annual lists of bills they could agree on called “priorities for a healthy Oregon.”

The environmental lobby’s top priorities today are two bills they describe as “coal to clean” — Senate Bill 477 and House Bill 2729.

Both would require utilities to stop generating or purchasing electricity from coal power plants by 2025. The Senate version also would require companies to replace coal power with electricity from sources “at least 90 percent cleaner than coal-derived generating resources,” according to a legislative summary.

Splitt said other priorities this year include a bill to require private forestland owners to provide notice to the state and keep other records of their use of pesticides; a bill to appropriate money for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to spend on conservation; and legislation that would allow the state to end a mandate to generate revenue from timber harvests on some public forests.

Environmental groups also are pushing for the passage of legislation that would preserve or create incentives for a range of solar projects, from residential to utility scale facilities. Lawrence said solar energy “still needs a little bit of a hand in the next step in putting it on a level playing field with fossil fuel.”

Splitt said environmental groups also want money for public transit to be included in any funding package for street maintenance and other transportation projects. The outlook for that package is unclear, since Republicans stopped participating in talks after Democrats passed the low-carbon fuel bill.

Some groups lobbying on the coal power bills and other environmental issues are not strictly environmental groups.

Bob Jenks, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Oregon, said the group supports the coal legislation because governments eventually will regulate carbon emissions and ratepayers could save money if utilities begin to more aggressively reduce carbon now.

“We’ve got to work hard because we don’t have the money,” said Jenks, who is not the utility board’s registered lobbyist but was in Salem to testify in favor of the coal bills on Wednesday. “But we’ve got people. We can organize people.”

PUSHING ENVIRONMENTAL AGENDA

The following is a list of registered lobbyists who work on environmental issues in Salem.

• Angela Crowley-Koch, Casey Daline, Angela Dilkes Perry, Andrea Durbin, Jonathan Eames, Jana Gastellum, Christine Hagerbaumer, Allison Hensey and Teresa Huntsinger, Oregon Environmental Council (Daline, Dilkes Perry and Eames also lobby for the Wild Salmon Center)

• Jonathan Manton, WaterWatch of Oregon, Global Partners, LP, Central Oregon LandWatch, Friends of the Metolius, Bicycle Transportation Alliance

• Meredith Shield, works for Strategies360 and represents 1000 Friends of Oregon, renewable energy company Ameresco Inc., Northwest Energy Efficiency Council, Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association, Pacific Ethanol Inc., Sierra Club of Oregon, The Conservation Campaign

• Mary Solecki, Natural Resources Defense Council

• Rhett Lawrence, Sierra Club Oregon Chapter

• Hillary Barbour, Daniel Bates, Nicholas Hund, Nels Johnson and Elizabeth Remley, Renewable Northwest Project (all except Barbour also lobby for Clean Energy Works Oregon)

• Quinn Read, Sean Stevens, Steve Pedery, Chandra LeGue, Robert Klavins and Erik Fernandez, Oregon Wild

• Steve McCoy, Jason Miner, Mary Kyle McCurdy, Mia Nelson, Andrea Salinas (also lobbies for Northwest Energy Efficiency Council and The Conservation Campaign), 1000 Friends of Oregon

• Kimberley Priestley and John DeVoe, WaterWatch of Oregon

• Jim Myron, the Native Fish Society

• Chris Parta, Climate Solutions and The Ocean Foundation (The Oregon Marine Reserves Partnership)

• Camila Thorndike, Oregon Climate

• Rikki Seguin, David Rosenfeld, Charles Fisher and Charlotte Bromley, Environment Oregon

• Jeff Bissonette, Citizens Utility Board

• Adam Meyer, Douglas Moore and Christy Splitt, Oregon League of Conservation voters (Splitt is also registered to lobby for the Oregon Conservation Network)

• Courtney Sipel, Scott Robertson, Amanda Rich, Gary Oxley and Evyan Jarvis Andries, Nature Conservancy of Oregon

• Shawn Miller, Coastal Conservation Association

• Justin Martin, Defenders of Wildlife

• Stephen Kafoury, Oregon Chapter of the Wildlife Society

• Sue Marshall and Michael Selvaggio, Audobon Society of Portland (Marshall also lobbies for Tualatin Riverkeepers)

• Tom Wolf, Oregon Council Trout Unlimited

• Mark Pengilly, Oregonians for Renewable Energy Progress

• Joseph Furia, Freshwater Trust

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