Democratic state Sen. Jeff Golden of Ashland is among the Oregon Legislature’s most vocal proponents of campaign contribution limits, a priority he has so far failed to get through the Legislature despite Democrats’ hold on both chambers.
For two election cycles, Golden has made a point of refusing campaign contributions from lobbyists and special interests, as he told Jefferson Public Radio this fall. The upshot of Golden’s position was a huge imbalance between his campaign spending and that of his Republican challenger, Medford Mayor Randy Sparacino.
This year, Golden raised $233,000 and spent $216,000 on his reelection bid, according to state campaign finance records. Sparacino raised and spent around $1.1 million.
But those figures did not tell the whole story about political spending in the race for Oregon’s Senate District 3 seat. A separate political action committee funded by Senate Democrats and public employee unions, Southern Oregon Priorities, stepped in with independent expenditures on pro-Golden ads that exceeded the total spent by Golden’s campaign this year.
In total, Southern Oregon Priorities spent $266,000 this year on reelecting Golden, according to state campaign finance reports. The political action committee’s director is listed as Jared Mason-Gere, a former lobbyist for the Oregon Education Association statewide teachers union who now lobbies for the Washington teachers union, according to LinkedIn.
The political action committee’s support helped Golden beat Sparacino by 3.9 percentage points to win reelection earlier this month.
Four years ago, the same political action committee reported spending $482,000 to help Golden beat moderate Republican candidate Jessica Gomez.
Additionally, a largely public employee union-funded political action committee, the 2022 Our Oregon Voter Guide, and the statewide teachers union spent several thousand dollars on ads and polling aimed at reelecting Golden, according to state campaign finance disclosures. Sparacino also benefitted from a smaller amount of independent expenditures, at least $30,000 mostly by anti-abortion group Oregon Right to Life.
Golden said on Wednesday that he was frustrated at the independent spending to elect and reelect him.
“I could not get, no matter what I did, the upstate folks to stop spending money on the race,” Golden said. “And they spent a whole lot” four years ago.
“It was really aggravating,” Golden said. “Two or three times I said we don’t need this.”
Golden said that this year after he complained to his fellow Democrats, their spending on television advertising “throttled way back.” He also questioned spending figures reported by political donors and political action committee staffers in the state’s campaign finance database, which Golden said he thought were higher than justified given the amount of advertising he observed in his race. “They better check their receipts,” Golden said. “Some of the folks upstate with a stake in the current system would like to undercut my assertion that you can win without their money.”
Golden said his experience demonstrates the need for campaign contribution limits and better donor disclosure requirements for political ads, which he expects Democrats to prioritize in the 2023 legislative session in part because good government advocates are trying once again to get their reform proposals on the ballot in 2024. Advocates’ proposals would likely set stricter contribution limits and disclosure mandates than many lawmakers and their political allies would prefer.
Oliver Muggli, executive director for Senate Democratic Leadership Fund which supplied much of the funding for the Southern Oregon Priorities political action committee, said the strategy “was necessary in 2018 and it was necessary again this year” because of a “mismatch in resources” between Golden and his Republican opponents.
“We saw really significant spending from Republicans down there,” Muggli said. “They spent over $1 million so we just needed to make sure that voters had information about all of Sen. Golden’s hard-fought accomplishments for the district.”
– Hillary Borrud | firstname.lastname@example.org |503-294-4034 | @hborrud