Tina Kotek wins over potential rival with embrace of campaign finance changes
With her commitment to the issue, the Democratic nominee for Oregon governor helped convince a third-party candidate to step out of the race. That's likely to help her.
As she scrambles to lock down votes in a tight gubernatorial race, Tina Kotek has removed one notable potential obstacle.
In private discussions last week, Kotek committed to using her position to advocate for some specific campaign finance regulations if elected governor. With that commitment — and a newly added policy platform on her website — a notable competitor for left-leaning votes has now stepped down.
Nathalie Paravicini, a naturopathic doctor running for governor under the banners of the Oregon Progressive Party and Pacific Green Party, filed a form withdrawing her candidacy on Friday, the last day she could be removed from the November ballot.
Paravicini told OPB Wednesday that personal reasons contributed to that decision, but she also took the step after being assured Kotek would pursue Paravicini’s central issue: enacting campaign finance regulations.
Oregon is one of a handful of states that place no limit on how much political campaigns can raise and spend, and has seen races grow increasingly expensive as a result. While voters amended the state constitution to explicitly allow campaign finance limits in 2020, lawmakers have not enacted any and efforts to land a proposal on the ballot this year fell flat.
With Kotek committing to limits, “I felt my goal had been accomplished,” Paravicini said. “I want to make clear that I did not withdraw because I’m afraid of being a spoiler.”
Still, Paravicini’s exit is a likely boon for Kotek, who could attract many of the votes that Paravicini otherwise would have won.
Those votes could prove vital in what seems poised to be a tight three-woman contest. In a 2020 run for secretary of state as a Pacific Green and Oregon Progressive Party candidate, Paravicini won 3.6% of the vote.
Besides Kotek, this year’s race features Republican Christine Drazan, a former state House minority leader, and Betsy Johnson, a former Democratic state senator running as an unaffiliated candidate. Limited polling suggests the race could be extremely close, with Republicans viewing the contest as their best chance in decades to retake the governor’s office.
Because of the election’s unprecedented and unpredictable nature, Paravicini said she received repeated entreaties from Democrats to step down and instead endorse Kotek. Kotek’s campaign reached out through the advocacy group Honest Elections Oregon to set up a meeting, and last week committed to a series of campaign finance limits Kotek would support as governor.
“Over the last few weeks, Tina met with advocates and Nathalie Paravicini to continue discussing campaign finance reform,” said Katie Wertheimer, a Kotek spokeswoman. “Tina asked Nathalie to consider supporting her campaign because they found lots of common ground.”
The limits Kotek has agreed to share similarities to a proposal that organizers of Honest Elections and others are hoping to put before voters in 2024. That effort, like a similar proposal that died this year, would place hard caps on how much individuals and political committees could donate to candidates and causes.
But Kotek’s explicit commitments on her campaign website are vague. While she voices support for specific caps on individual political donors — $2,000 for statewide candidates and $1,000 for legislative candidates — Kotek does not lay out what limits she would support for the political action committees that give extensively in Oregon politics.
Such limits on PAC giving are particularly sensitive, since they help dictate how much say special interest groups have in elections. Democrats, who benefit from millions in donations from labor groups most election cycles, frequently argue unions should have higher giving limits than other PACs, since they cobble together their money from many small donations from individual union members.
Kotek suggests on her website that such “small-donor” PACs should face higher limits than committees run by corporations or advocacy groups tied to issues like gun rights or environmental protections, but does not offer specifics. Her campaign also did not provide details when asked. Paravicini says Kotek agreed to a proposal that would allow small donor committees to donate 10 times the limit of many other PACs.
Like other Oregon Democrats in competitive statewide contests, Kotek is drawing big support this year from labor unions. Service Employees International Union Local 503, the Oregon Education Association and the Oregon Nurses Association all count among her biggest donors. Her largest single donor is the national Democratic Governors Association, which has contributed nearly $1.9 million of the $8.6 million she has raised.
Drazan, meanwhile, has reported raising more than $7.5 million, with roughly $1.6 million of that from the Republican Governors Association. Other big donors to the Republican nominee include companies in the lumber and construction industries.
Johnson, who collected more than 37,500 signatures to earn her place on the ballot, has reported raising more than $11 million during the election cycle. Her largest donors include well-known billionaires Phil Knight and Tim Boyle, who have donated $1.75 million and $341,000 respectively. Timber industry and heavy equipment companies are also major supporters.
Kotek has long said she supports limits on political giving in a state that has not had them in decades. But she had not made them central to a campaign that has instead focused on housing, climate change, abortion access and other issues. During Kotek’s time as House speaker, Democrats passed contribution limits through the chamber once, only to see them die in the Senate.
Jason Kafoury, a member of Honest Elections Oregon, said Wednesday that Kotek has agreed to more than just supporting campaign finance limits. He said the campaign will hold a forum on the subject later this month, and will also run campaign ads on the issue.
“We wanted to make sure that campaign finance reform had a voice in this election,” Kafoury said. “We’re very pleased that Tina Kotek has committed to making this a priority.”
The agreement reached last week has parallels to the 2018 governor’s race, when Gov. Kate Brown convinced that year’s Independent Party nominee, Patrick Starnes, to step down and endorse her with a pledge to support campaign finance reform. It was too late for Starnes to be removed from the ballot, but Brown cruised to victory in what initially looked like a close race.
In the years that followed, Brown supported Measure 107, the 2020 ballot proposal that ensured campaign limits are allowed under the state constitution, but otherwise did not move the issue forward.
Paravicini said Wednesday that, though she is now out of the race, she will be watching closely for Kotek to follow through on her pledge.
“I will hold her to it,” she said. “I’m not afraid of running again and spoiling campaigns into the future.”