This Year’s Billionaire Election

Millions from corporations and billionaires don’t necessarily win elections.

But the amount of new money from a small group of people and businesses is an alarming trend in Oregon politics.

Consider this: Texan John Arnold, a former Enron executive turned hedge fund billionaire spent $2.75 million to lose by more than 40 points on Measure 90 – a new record for individual spending. New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg did a little less for Measure 90, only $1.93 million, but he also gave $250,000 to re-elect Governor Kitzhaber and hundreds of thousands to the State House and Senate. Don’t forget the Koch Brothers, they spent millions propping up Monica Wehby’s campaign for U.S. Senate, spending millions on attack ads. Shockingly, the list goes on and on.

And when you compare Arnold and Bloomberg to the corporations – they look a little small.

Monsanto spent nearly $6 million to defeat Measure 92, and they spent hundreds of thousands to beat back a GMO safety law in Jackson County and they somehow shoehorned in a statewide GMO pre-emption law into the grand bargain.

What is going on?

2014 was the Billionaire Election, and it might just be the sign of more things to come. In 2014 in Oregon, there were 13 contributions of over $1 million to Oregon campaigns – over three times the number from four years ago. This includes organizations and PACs, but for the first time, we saw individuals give over $1 million, and none of these big dollar donors live in Oregon.

We are used to people trying to buy elections – Loren Parks (another out-of-stater) has spent millions trying to shape our elections (this year was no different, Parks spent $100,000’s to repeal Driver Cards and attack legislators for supporting immigrants and road safety) – but this feels different. The size of the checks, and the number of the checks are larger than ever before, the connection to Oregon seems more remote, and the impact is through the roof.

Is everyone now subject to the reaction of a billionaire with a bee in their bonnet?

How did it become this way?

Two things come to mind:

First, there are just a lot more billionaires than there were 10 or 20 years ago – while the 99.9% of us barely make it despite working harder than ever, the richest 1% of the 1% are making more than ever. They have more to spend – so why not spent it on a cause du jour?

Second, Citizens United allows for uncontrolled spending anywhere – and while Oregon always has had loose campaign finance laws – now the whole country is a political playing field for some particularly wealthy folks. $1 million to a Billionaire is not that much money, really.

If this is the “new democracy” I don’t think we’ll be happy with the results. But, there’s a silver lining in the results from last night when it comes to the new Billionaire Elections: If they only have money, they won’t always win.

Take Measure 90. The Yes on 90 campaign spent over $6 million – an extraordinary amount – and they lost 2 to 1. People didn’t like their proposal, and the money didn’t change their mind.

Sen. Merkley won yesterday because he works on issues that people really agree with. The money couldn’t change that. Despite millions of negative ads against Measure 92 – they still have a chance to win because there was a core group of people that cared about what’s in our food.

So we should hope that 2016 isn’t the Big Billionaire Election, but we should be reassured that even if it is – there are some things that can’t be bought.

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Who’s standing up for women and working families?

Since launching in September, Fair Shot Oregon has kept its eyes on the prize: finding out where candidates stand on the issues that matter most to women and working families.

Add your name right now and stand up for women and working families in Oregon.

November 4th is just around the corner—the clock is ticking. Fair Shot is giving candidates one final chance to go on the record about whether they support Fair Shot solutions.

Next week, Fair Shot Oregon will host town halls on economic security in Salem, Hillsboro and Medford.

Candidates running for office in these areas have been invited to clarify where they stand on the issues Fair Shot is fighting for: living wages, equal pay, retirement security, paid sick time and affordable women’s health care.

Which candidates are on the side of women & working families?

Join Fair Shot Oregon next week and find out.

Salem
Tuesday, October 21st
First Congressional UCC
700 Marion St. NE
7-8:30 pm
* State House candidates Paul Evans and Kathy Goss have been invited.

Reserve your spot today. RSVP here.

Hillsboro
Thursday, October 23rd
Hillsboro Public Library
2850 NE Brookwood Pkwy
7-8:30 pm
* State Senate candidates Bruce Starr and Chuck Riley and State House candidates Susan McLain, Mark Richman, Joe Gallegos, and Dan Mason have been invited.

Reserve your spot today. RSVP here.

Medford
Thursday, October 23rd
Southern Oregon University, RCC Presentation Hall
101 S. Bartlett St.
6-7:30 pm
* State senate candidates Alan Bates and Dave Dotterrer have been invited.

Reserve your spot today. RSVP here.

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More Evidence Against the Top Two Elections Scheme

Fewer people are voting in primaries, and they’re becoming less and less representative of the general population—so why give them all of the political power?

The Associated Press looks today at plummeting Primary Election turnout numbers, and while reporter JJ Cooper doesn’t link the facts to Measure 90, the data is another argument against the flawed “top two” elections proposal.

In Oregon, we had one of the lowest Primary turnouts on record this past May. At 36%, it was the absolute lowest since we implemented vote by mail in 2000. But here’s the thing: Primary turnout was down almost everywhere.

The backers of Measure 90 claim that their proposal will somehow magically increase voter participation, but the evidence strongly shows the opposite to be true.

California Turnout Washington Turnout

In California and Washington, which have both implemented “top two” elections in recent years, Primary turnout has continued to fall. California just had the lowest turnout in state history at less than 25% this past June. Washington’s Primary in August was the lowest in recent history for an even-year election, at around 30%. The “top two” elections system simply has not led to increased turnout or participation.

(In fact, according to researchers at the Public Policy Institute of California, “top two” elections do have the side-effect of driving down participation in races where both the top two candidates are from the same political party. No meaningful choices on the ballot = less reason to vote.)

But it’s not just a matter of fewer people participating. It’s a matter of who is participating. The Center for the Study of the American Electorate recently put out a study showing that Primary Election turnout nationwide has plummeted to about 15%. That’s abysmally low, but it’s not equally low among all voters.

Primary turnout among Democrats has fallen like a rock, but it’s fallen a lot less dramatically among Republicans.

From the Washington Post:

What’s perhaps most notable, though, is the partisan difference. Republican primary turnout overtook Democratic turnout for the first time in 2010, and that difference is even bigger this primary season.

In fact, GOP primary turnout has been pretty steady over the past four decades, but Democratic turnout has dropped consistently — including by about 30 percent this year, from 8.7 percent to 6.1 percent. That’s the biggest decline on-record.

Primary Turnout Nationwide

We also know that older voters make up a disproportionately large percentage of the Primary electorate. Data from the Census and Secretary of State show that Oregonians age 18-39 make up 38% of the adult population, but cast only 13% of the votes in the 2012 primary. Conversely, Oregonians age 60 and over accounted for 27% of Oregon’s adult population, but made up 58% of the voters in the 2012 primary election. Primary voters are also less diverse than the general public.

Here’s what that means for Measure 90: We know the “top two” won’t increase turnout, but it will give much more political power to the smaller and smaller number of Primary voters, who are older, whiter, and more Republican. These voters will be making the “top two” decisions for everyone else—including the very large number of people who vote in General Elections but not Primaries.

And if General Election voters don’t like the “top two” choices that older, whiter, more Republican voters make for them? Too bad. There are literally no other options available. Not even write-in candidates. So they can vote for one of two people who don’t represent them… or not vote at all.

From the AP:

Did voters sit out because there weren’t many high-profile races, something that’s naturally fixed in a general election? Or are they turned off from politics and uninterested in engaging?

The answer, and the likelihood that the campaigns can motivate people who agree with them, has implications in any of the races that have the potential to be close this November.

Those include ballot measures to legalize pot and label genetically engineered food; top-of-the-ticket races for governor and U.S. Senate; and especially the much lower profile state legislative races that will determine control of the state Capitol.

Indeed, turnout in November is much higher than in the Primary. But under a “top two” system, voters in the fall may be shocked and surprised to discover that their only two choices are not really choices at all.

One Response to “More Evidence Against the Top Two Elections Scheme”

  1. Larry McD

    This item shows up on the Our Oregon newsletter immediately after yours:

    Will Oregon voters return after dismal primary?
    Associated Press
    “Oregon’s voter participation rate hit a near record low for the modern era in the May primary. That begs the question: Why? Did voters sit out because there weren’t many high-profile races, something that’s naturally fixed in a general election? Or are they turned off from politics and uninterested in engaging? The answer, and the likelihood that the campaigns can motivate people who agree with them, has implications in any of the races that have the potential to be close this November.”

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