Limits on campaign contributions to candidates in Oregon could prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption, reduce the fundraising burden on candidates, curb the influence of wealthy interests, and boost public trust in elected officials.
However, limits set too high would be ineffective. And, low limits could make running an effective campaign difficult, unfairly benefit incumbents and self-financed candidates, as well as shift campaign funds to independent expenditures and ballot measures.
Introduced during the 2019 Session, SJR13, SJR18, and HJR13 propose amendments to the Oregon Constitution that would allow enactment of laws limiting contributions to candidates. They differ in details, but none specify particular limits.
This open ended grant of authority to limit contributions is substantially similar to 2006 Measure 46 that failed 40%-to-60% and may face comparable criticisms. In the voters’ pamphlet, arguments in opposition focused on the curtailment of free speech protections, uniting interest groups from the left and the right. The introduced measures are all vulnerable to free speech concerns. SJR13, in particular, would attract this line of attack by amending Article I.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Colorado, Missouri, and Nevada have specific limits on contributions to candidates in their constitutions.
Definite constitutional limits may be more politically feasible in Oregon because they would balance the interests of elected officials and voters. Elected officials won’t have to fear initiative legislation altering the limits and voters won’t have to be concerned that the Legislative Assembly would change the limits against their interests. All changes would have to go through the arduous process of a constitutional amendment.