Media Room


Governor Kate Brown
Defending Democracy: Campaign Finance Reform Testimony
January 23, 2019

Good afternoon, Chair Golden, Members of the Committee. Thank you for inviting me today. I’m Governor Kate Brown.

I’m here today to testify about the first pillar of my Defending Democracy Agenda, campaign finance reform in Oregon.

As you may have heard in my inaugural address, putting our state on a better path forward starts with bolstering our democracy. That means fighting every effort to undermine it and pushing forward to stay ahead of those who might benefit from any point of weakness.

Voting is our country’s greatest collective responsibility, and we must vigorously safeguard the sanctity of our elections. While our elections institutions here in Oregon are amongst the best in the nation, we have more work to do to ensure that every single voice is heard.

To that end, I want to see paid postage on our ballots. Vote-by-mail is a strong voting system, but it too has inherent flaws. One of those flaws is the requirement of a stamp to return it by mail. Arguably a poll tax.

It’s time to make everyone’s mailbox a drop-box – at no cost to the voter. And frankly, the stamp is a functional barrier for voters with disabilities or rural voters who may live far from any drop box—not just for those under 40 who think that ink and a stamp are body art options, not voting necessities.

I am also working to expand our automatic voter registration system. Oregon was the first to adopt this enhanced motor voter system and other states are catching on. But it’s time to expand to agencies beyond the DMV. The Brennan Center has referred to the obstacles associated with our outdated voting registration systems as the “quiet disenfranchisement” of our electorate. We must expand automatic voter registration to ensure that ALL eligible citizens are registered to vote and their voices can be heard.

We have so much to be proud of in Oregon. While other states are rolling back voting rights, Oregon has led the way. Vote by mail and Oregon’s Automatic Voter Registration system have resulted in one of the highest voter participation rates in the country. Oregon is often cited as a leader on these issues, and I am certainly proud, as you should be, of the work we have done.

We live in a fast-paced world and politics is often at the center, so we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. Oregon might look good for our past accomplishments but we are at risk of falling significantly behind. And this past election is proof in point. When it comes to campaign finance, we are still the wild, wild West.

Both nationally and locally, the influence of BIG money and DARK money is palpable. “Defending Democracy” is not a mantra I developed; it is a mobilizing force for Americans across the country as they see our nation’s most sacred institutions threatened. When we see the highest court in our country clear the path for big, dark money as they did in Citizens United, people cry out and demand better. When the influx of foreign money has influenced our elections systems, we raise our voices and our fists in frustration. But, how do we defend our democracy?

In my career I have learned time and again that true change, the kind that has roots strong enough to support true reform, requires diligent, steadfast progress.

I am proud of the work I did in the Legislature to establish our transparent contribution system, ORESTAR, and the work to reform our electoral system. But we must do more as big money and outside influence threaten our democracy.

Who is most powerful in rising up against these powers?

We are. The states. Oregon.

My campaign finance reform platform includes three powerful steps forward:

First, we need to up our transparency in the reporting of contributions and expenditures to keep up with the realities of modern campaigns and technology. Especially leading up to an election, but really at any time, Oregonians should be able to see who is receiving money and how they are spending it. As technology advances, so can we. There is no reason to wait thirty days to see dollars show up on our campaign finance reporting system, or even two, while ballots are in-hand.

Second, dark money. As long as dollars flow unfettered in Oregon, the very least we can do is ensure that everyone can see its movement. From whom, to whom and when. I would like to work with members to introduce legislation that pushes Oregon to keep up with campaign finance reporting – real money, in real time.

Political interests should be able to speak out publicly, but not to be able to disguise their voices and financial interests in the outcome they seek to influence.

Third, limiting the flow of political money itself. For example, the gubernatorial race this past year was the most expensive in Oregon history. It costs more to run for office in Oregon than it does in Washington.

Quite simply, the fact that in Oregon, we cannot even discuss what limits can or should look like because of the way our constitution has been interpreted is both mind-boggling and deeply disappointing to me. I want to see change that makes elections more competitive and that reduces barriers to participation – for candidates and donors alike. And for this change to take place, we must make clear in our constitution that in Oregon, we can put contribution limits in place to help protect us from the corrupting influence of large political donations.

The last bill I introduced on this subject was shortly before I became Governor, SJR 5 (2015). That session I introduced language to allow the regulation of political contributions as well as a tandem bill that attempted to put in place reasonable limits in Oregon. I’m currently working with advocates and legislative members on determining the best approach to these issues.

They are not easy, but they are important.

As you are aware, any amendment to the Oregon Constitution must be ratified by the people. Let me be clear, I have my sights set on the 2020 General election. So, here I am today, looking at each of you and offering my determination, my staff, and my help to do what is best for Oregon.

Truly representative leadership and access to decision-making roles requires meaningful change to the status quo. We can’t begin to address the status quo until we address the constitutional issues. Oregonians have time and again proven that they want campaign finance reform. It’s our job as state policy makers to find the best way to accomplish it.

Again, thank you for having me today.