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Oregon Campaign Finance Tracker - Mid-2023 Update
Phil Knight opens wallet wide; school board elections get spendy in Spring
The financial ramp up to November elections earns most of the attention each election cycle. But Springtime special elections - school boards, fire districts, etc. - produce a second, albeit much smaller, campaign finance splurge.
And that’s what we see in this latest refresh of the Oregon Campaign Finance Tracker - nearly $15 million in campaign finance transactions across the state.
And while that’s the main story to be told from this 2nd quarter data update, there are a number of other noticeable moves being made by individual players and by organizations.
Phil Knight cuts another absurd check to support Oregon Republicans
The Bring Balance to Salem PAC was the recent recipient of Nike founder Knight’s partisan political largesse. In May 2023, Knight cut a $2 million check to the Republican controlled political action committee - just as Republican State Senators in Salem were settling into a session-long temper tantrum where they refused to show up for work.
Salem-Keizer Proletariat the only publication willing to call Phil Knight the Oregon GOP Sugar Daddy that he is. That’s worth becoming a free or paid subscriber, right? Seriously though, support local journalism. It helps keep people like this accountable for their actions.
With this donation, Knight brings his overall financial support for Bring Balance to Salem PAC to $4 million - a committee that formed in 2021 and exists solely to funnel money to Republican candidates in Oregon.
With this $2 million donation in April, Knight effectively becomes a political sugar daddy for Oregon Republicans - of the nearly $7.7 million in contributions the PAC has collected since 2021, Knight accounts for nearly 55% of all cash raised.
Where has the Nike founder’s money gone? Who is this PAC supporting with Daddy Phil’s Nike riches?
Here’s a sampling:
Oregon Senate Republican controlled “The Leadership Fund” was given more than $850k in contributions from Knight’s friends at Bring Balance to Salem PAC. The Leadership Fund is a group controlled by Republican State Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp - who orchestrated the 2023 temper tantrum where he and a group of colleagues refused to do their jobs and show up for work. The goal of the Leadership Fund is to elect more Republicans to the Oregon Senate.
Oregon Republican controlled “Evergreen Oregon PAC” got nearly $560k in contributions from Knight’s pet right-wing PAC. That money, in turn, gets spread out to dozens of far-right candidates across Oregon.The Evergreen PAC has also spent more than $1.6 million with Washington D.C.-based marketing firm Strategic Media Services, Inc., to help flood Oregon with micro-targeted ads and disinformation supporting GOP candidates.
Leading up to the 2022 November elections, Knight’s favorite PAC spent nearly $1.7 million between three out-of-state companies - Blitz Canvassing; Advanced Micro Targeting; and Moblyze - to power canvassing and get out the vote efforts.
Knight’s latest $2 million donation to Bring Balance to Salem PAC was recorded on May 4, 2023. The PAC has reported almost no major expenditures since then, so it seems like they are likely rebuilding their 2024 warchest on the back of Daddy Phil’s sneaker fortune.
School board elections get crowded & spendy
Here’s what a special election cycle looks like in campaign finance world:
Overall transaction value soars in April & May, and declines back to ambient levels in June 2023. Contributions increase dramatically in April 2023 while expenditures peak in May 2023. This is, fairly simply displayed, the financial footprint of a special election cycle in Oregon - mostly powered by highly politicized school board races across the state.
Overall, 213 school board director campaigns raised donations or spent money in the May 2023 special election cycle. Two years prior, in May 2021, Oregon saw 172 campaigns for school district positions. Two years before that, in May of 2019, Oregon saw just 79 candidates raising money for school board positions.
As far back as I can find in Oregon’s campaign finance system, I am unable to find a Springtime election cycle as filled with school board candidates as 2023. Seems unprecedented.
Despite the focus of right-wing groups (and money) on schools boards across Oregon, very few culture war candidates actually won.
SKP’s Oregon Campaign Finance Tracker is still a new tool
It’s a little rough around the edges, but our Oregon Campaign Finance Tracker currently shows us campaign finance trends dating back to December 2022. We break down each month into “Top Tens” across four different kinds of campaign finance transactions. And the “Monthly Totals” tab is where we’re building visualizations to help understand campaign finance trends in Oregon.
The main challenge with this, of course, is the platform we’re forced to use to extract the data from the state - ORESTAR. It’s clunky and stupid and the search functionality is painfully antiquated, so we have to do a lot of data clean up and spreadsheet work to make it all make sense.
As always, any ideas for improvements are welcome (and appreciated…only if they’re good ideas).
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