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Oregon Governor Reaps $120,000 Fundraising Haul From Business Donors

Jonathan Levinson/OPB
Kate Brown hugs a supporter at the Democratic Party of Oregon 2018 election party on Nov. 6, 2018 in Portland, Ore.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who continues to raise money for her campaign fund even though she can’t run for reelection, is now tapping donors from the business community.

Since the start of the month, Brown has raised more than $120,000 in business-related contributions, including from several firms that do business with the state of Oregon. Campaigns have up to 30 days to publicly disclose contributions, so her fundraising totals this month could be higher.

Thomas Wheatley, a political consultant who handles the governor’s fundraising, refused to discuss any of the contributions. But he said in an email that Brown is raising the money to “communicate directly with the public, to support her priorities and to support candidates who share her values.”

Among other things, Brown is backing two measures that the Legislature referred to the November 2020 ballot. One seeks to remove constitutional prohibitions against limiting the size of campaign finance donations and the other would raise tobacco taxes for health care.

Brown has repeatedly said that while she would like to get big money out of politics, she won’t unilaterally stop taking big donations until the rules are changed.

After defeating Republican challenger Knute Buehler last November, Brown put on a continued fundraising push in the months before the legislative session started in mid-January. She collected about $500,000 in that period. And she stepped up her fundraising again following the session’s end on June 30.

Her major target in recent weeks has been the business community, much of which has had major differences with her. Many business donors openly supported Buehler. And Brown’s support for a climate bill and a new tax on business sales also drew opposition in many corners of the business community.

But several lobbyists and consultants noted that many companies have good reasons for donating to the governor when she asks.

“The lobby has got to deal with her for a couple more sessions,” veteran business lobbyist Len Bergstein said, adding that Brown also continues to maintain warm relations with many business leaders.

“So on several levels, she’s a formidable fundraiser,” said Bergstein, who attended a Brown fundraiser for the business community in downtown Portland earlier this month.

One of his clients is Threemile Canyon Farms, a Boardman dairy and major supplier to the Tillamook County Creamery Association. Threemile Canyon, which gave the governor $5,000 this month, was one of the rare agricultural groups to support the climate bill and has been a consistent Brown supporter. (The Tillamook County Creamery Association, an Oregon-based farmers’ co-op, is facing accusations of misleading its customers with deceptive marketing campaigns. It has denied the allegations.)

The governor also received contributions from the state’s major utilities — PacifiCorp, Portland General Electric, NW Natural and CenturyLink. They all have a big interest in state regulatory decisions and often contribute to sitting governors. PacifiCorp, PGE and Century Link each gave $10,000 while NW Natural gave $5,000.

Several other firms are also closely tied to state government. Centene Management Co., which gave $10,000, owns Trillium Community Health Plan, which is a major Medicaid contractor with the state. The Motor Vehicle Services Corp., another $10,000 donor, has been a contractor with the Oregon Department of Transportation. Orrick, Harrington & Sutcliffe, which donated $5,000, is a San Francisco law firm that has worked on bond sales for the state, Oregon Health & Science University and other public entities in Oregon.

Wheatley did not respond to questions about whether Brown places any restrictions on fundraising among companies doing business with the state. He did say that “she always holds her political action committee staff to the highest standards, ensuring full compliance with all Oregon campaign finance and disclosure laws.”

Bergstein said separate attempts by the Oregon Republican Party and Salem activist Michael Cross to recall Brown give her another opening to appeal for political donations. “That is an easy rallying cry,” Bergstein added.

Wheatley said the governor “isn’t spending time talking about or even thinking about” the recall efforts. There’s been strong doubts about whether either of the petition campaigns can gather the 280,050 signatures needed by Oct. 14 to qualify for the ballot.

As of Wednesday, the state’s disclosure database showed that Brown had $920,000 in her campaign fund. That’s a big difference from the last lame-duck governor, Democrat Ted Kulongoski. He essentially stopped raising money after he was reelected in 2006.

However, it’s common for lame-duck governors around the country to continue to raise money. Brown also makes use of ActBlue, an online site used by Democrats to raise money from small donors.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting