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Salem Investment Firm Pumps $5k into Salem-Keizer School Board Director Chandragiri’s Campaign
Single firm & founder responsible for $1.6 million in (mostly) GOP backing
With a cool $5,000 donation on March 27, a major GOP funding source has moved to influence the Salem-Keizer School Board race in May 2023.
The $5,000 might seem like no big deal - against a pattern of infinite-growth political spending in our culture, five grand isn’t that much.
But, in the context of the Salem-Keizer school board candidates and campaign finance across the school board election, that single donation to Republican incumbent Satya Chandragiri represents a cannonball of funding that splashes the overall campaign finance pool.
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The donation comes from Mountain West Investment Corp - an entity that, along with the owners in the Tokarski family, have firehosed more than $1.6 million into Republican politics across Marion County & Oregon over the past several years (according to public data accessed via ORESTAR).
Let’s step back & take a look at the entire pot of cash contributions raised to date (April 10, 2023).
It’s a little over $36k across all candidates. That number will certainly increase, but that’s where we are right now. This folder has all the raw data from which this information was extracted.
If you took the $5,000 from Mountain West and looked at it on its own, it represents nearly 14% of all contributions to all six candidates (four, really - my man Larry G. Scruggs hasn’t raised a dime yet & Krissy Hudson has $50).
And, yes, the Tokarski family and Mountain West are responsible for a ton of philanthropy in the community. Go Google them - you’ll find no shortage of glowing coverage in local & regional media. Good for them (and for the community). Sincerely.
But in addition to loading up Chandragiri at a critical stage in his campaign, Larry Tokarski, Mountain West founder and president, expands his reach into local politics.
Based on campaign finance records, Tokarski rarely interferes in Salem-Keizer School Board races via his oversized donations. But this cycle, Chandragiri was lucky enough to find his way into Tokarski’s deep pockets.
For Chandragiri, it’s likely familiar company in those pockets. Tokarski has aimed his philanthropic firehose at right-wing candidates from Christine Drazan & Kim Thatcher to Kevin Mannix & Danielle Bethell (Chandragiri’s former board colleague in Salem-Keizer until Bethell quit on her constituents in the middle of her term).
Speaking of Lawrence Tokarski and local media - did you know he owns The Salem Reporter?
Well, he co-owns the Salem Reporter. But I’d hope to see the independent editorial operation of that important local newspaper include the reminder moving forward that their owner is financially supporting certain candidates in local races.** Feels like the ethical thing to do. Especially in this age where transparency in media is critical to rebuild trust with our respective audiences.
For example, Salem-Keizer Proletariat has no corporate backing. No advertisers, either. SKP answers to readers, and we can both state that AND show it by virtue of…y’know, being 100% reader supported. Easy peasy.
Anyway, despite the rich fella splashing the far-right pot, progressive candidates show more grassroots support.
The blue bars below represent the overall amount each candidate raised - mostly a mix of cash contributions and in-kind contributions. In-kind contributions aren’t typically a normal expression of support for a candidate. It’s usually a business or professional offering a service or good at no cost.
By looking at the gap between total raised (cash + in-kind) and just cash on its own (the red bars below) - you can see the difference in base of support.
We also see the two progressive candidates - Cynthia For School Board & Kelley Strawn for School Board - with nearly identical red and blue bars. That means nearly everything they’ve raised has been cash donations. That’s all direct financial support (mostly from individuals).
Now look at the right-wing candidates - Troutt, Krissy for Kids & Friends of Satya - each with a noticeable gap created by the difference in cash support and in-kind support. In this case, each of them accepted in-kind services or goods from a far-right activist group.
That’s not a signal of strength of community, just a political machine looking to influence local politics with a mix of money that’s not easy to track back to its source.
Pretty meaningful difference, no?
Anyway, if super rich dudes buying school board candidates makes you feel…weird. Help out a candidate you like? With money! Or time!
**I haven’t seen any evidence that the Salem Reporter has favored in their coverage co-owner Tokarski or Mountain West or any of the political friends he’s made along the way. It seems like a solid newspaper that does a lot of meaningful community journalism. But I think if we’re all committed to being badass journalists, we should strive for transparency - even when it might make your very wealthy co-owner uncomfortable.