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Marion County funding choices lean right, religious
Marion County Public Spending Digest update shows emerging trends
Quick recap before we dig into some pretty interesting trends in how our Marion County Commissioners doled out more than $320 million in public funding in 2023 alone (through Jan-May 2023).
We created the Marion County Public Spending Digest to help make sense of how our three Republican Marion County Commissioners spend billions in public funding across their respective tenures.
A significant allocation of these public funds goes to other local, regional and state government organizations.
Some of it goes to highly specialized agencies and companies that are widely used for municipal projects.
Some of it goes to high-powered political donors. And a not insignificant portion even goes to religious organizations.
Salem-Keizer Proletariat has never been in a position to sign off on multi-million dollar contracts. If we did, we wouldn’t do business with religious organizations - it’s public money, ya’ dingdongs. It should never be spent to support religious organizations. Anyway, SKP is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Month-in. Month-out. Three folks are signing off on one fat check after another. Who are they? Marion County Commissioners. We’ve got three of them. You can learn more about them here.
Colm Willis. David Cameron. Danielle Bethell.
Most people in Marion County don’t know who these people are, much less that they exist and will influence the allocation of likely billions of public dollars over their respective tenures.
Introducing the Top 20 most frequent recipients of large contracts from Marion County
Marion County Commissioners sign off on about 65 contracts per month. We have 7 months of data in our Spending Digest, so the amount of contracts (and associated data) to peruse becomes unwieldy fairly quickly.
And since one of our main goals with this project is to increase meaningful transparency into how Marion County Commissioners Willis, Cameron & Bethell spend our money, we wanted to develop some methods to weed through more “run-of-the-mill” contracts and focus on the contracts where Commissioners have more opportunity to influence outcomes.
Here’s a great example of how we strip down this data to make it more meaningful and easier to spot patterns in awarding contracts. Since November 2022 (the past seven months), Marion County Commissioners have signed off on 455 contracts worth around $405 million.
Of those 455 contracts, 92 were with federal, state or municipal entities - almost entirely contracts governed by over-arching agreements. Those 92 inter-government contracts represent more than half of the total amount of public funds committed - around $247 million (around 60% of all $ awarded).
In our analyses to date, we mostly ignore those contracts. We focus instead on those contracts where Marion County Commissioners are most capable and likely to exercise their influence and preference.
To that end, we created a running list of the “Top 20 Highest Value Repeat Contract Recipients,” which can be found on the “Insights” tab of the Marion County Public Spending Digest.
How does a company make this list? We looked at any entity engaged in more than one contract with Marion County (starting November 2022), then we sorted by dollar amount awarded from highest to lowest. We also created a “Value Per Contract” calculation (not included in source data). The image above shows the top 20 sorted by this Value/Contract metric - from highest to lowest.
Using the process described on the “Purpose & Methodology” tab of the digest, we found three entities receiving public funding that raise a variety of red flags:
United Way of Mid-Willamette Valley
$2,019,500 across 2 contracts
$1,009,750 value per contract
Marion County Commissioner David Cameron serves in a leadership position on the board of this organization (secretary).
Marion County Commissioner Colm Willis accepted a political donation from the president of the board of directors for this entity.
This chapter of United Way is led by board president Matthew Casebeer, of family-owned Capital Auto Group. Marion County Commissioner Willis has accepted political donations from members of the Casebeer family in the past, and the Casebeer family regularly supports right-wing candidates both locally and in state-wide races.
Catholic Community Services Foundation
$1,531,614 across 6 contracts
$255,269 value per contract
Most of the money steered towards this religious group was in the form of ARPA federal funding, with a smaller amount coming from state funding.
In November of 2022, Marion County Commissioners awarded Catholic Community Services Foundation $250,000 in federal ARPA funding (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021) to help them…renovate a building.
In Spring 2023, Marion County Commissioners Willis, Cameron & Bethell signed off on shuffling another cool $1 million in ARPA funding to the religious group.
In December 2022, they awarded the religious group an additional nearly quarter million in state public resources to help establish Marion County’s Behavioral Health Resource Network (pursuant to Intergovernmental Agreement #176751).
Marimea Bodunov Adult Foster Care Services
$380,000 across 3 contracts
$126,667 value per contract
This allocation of public funds seems innocuous on its surface. But this company is described as a service provided with religious intentions. From Faith Based Assisted Living, Marimea Bodunov Adult Foster Care Services is described as:
“Catholic seniors looking for faith-based senior living residences in Salem, Oregon will find Marimea Bodunov Adult Foster Home, located at 2567 Fisher Rd Ne inside 97305 as a wonderful choice for all of their personal and spiritual needs.”
Public funds in Marion County tend to get spent with those favorable to right-wing ideology and politicians.
Based on the last 7 months of publicly available Marion County contract data, four of the 20 most active contract recipients lean right, and just one leans left - in terms of political ideology.
Based on our research methodology, we were unable to discern any political preference for the remaining 15 of the top 20 list. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are politically neutral. It could mean that our research methods are inadequate to accurately determine which way they swing.*
For the 4 businesses/organizations we’ve labeled as right-leaning, we make that designation after researching who owns or controls the organization and what candidates or PACs they support financially. Again, we’re relying on primary source data, rather than just feelings or vibes.
A junk drawer of other insights
There’s so much data here, so there’s a few things that are just…weird. Like, none of our research methods (or the time period we’re looking at) explain some of these patterns in contract data…but the data itself would require a curious person to raise at least one eyebrow.
Is Roy Houck Construction LLC the only local company that does road work? Seriously - 5 contracts since November 2022 for more than $7 million? Not to disparage the work of Roy and his crews, but there’s no one else in Marion County who can handle this work?
In the past 7 months, Marion County Commissioners have spent nearly $5 million dollars with various engineering firms to consult on a number of projects. At what point does it become more cost efficient to establish consulting resources in-house? Civil engineers are probably expensive to hire and retain, but would it cost more than $5 million over 7 months ($715k per month)? Maybe there’s other factors at play, but that’s a huge amount of public funding to push on 3rd party consultants.
One of the larger contracts was a $500,000 deal for (uniforms & duty gear) with Keizer-based business 911 Supply, Inc. The owner, Richard Cummings, made a political donation to former (and far-right) Salem-Keizer School Board Director Marty Heyen in 2018. Heyen served on the school board with current Marion County Commissioner Danielle Bethell (although Bethell didn’t take her school board seat until 2019). Not exactly a straight-line connection, but enough to make you go hmmm.
Next update when June contract document posts to the Marion County Clerk website!
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