Special Interests Dominate Salem City Campaigns
Four weeks before ballots will be mailed, notable disparities can be seen between funding amounts and sources for Salem city council candidates. The totals suggest lopsided special interest funding.
Voters concerned about the influence of special interest money have other options. Alternative candidates are running for each of these seats on May 20th.
ORESTAR, the Secretary of State’s system for tracking Oregon election contributions, shows that as of the last day of March, three candidates have already received the bulk of their contributions from the Home Builders Association of Polk and Marion County PAC, the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce Create Jobs PAC and the Salem Association of Realtor’s PAC and their members.
These sources account for more than 96% of the financing for candidates Steve McCoid in Ward 4, Daniel Benjamin in Ward 6 and Jim Lewis in Ward 8.
Jim Lewis has received 78% of his campaign donations from the three PACs, businesses or family members. Amounts include $2,500 from the local Chamber of Commerce, $750 from two Home Builders members, $500 from the Home Builder’s PAC and $500 from the Realtor’s PAC. These sources total 94% of his donations.
In contrast Lewis’ opponent, Christopher Proudfood, who is endorsed by Oregon’s Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and US Congressman Kurt Schrader, has received 40% of his cash contributions from individuals.
Daniel Benjamin got $6,000 from the Chamber’s Create Jobs PAC – 98% of his reported donations. The Chamber PAC has contributed over $280,000 to local races since 2008.
On the other hand Benjamin’s opponent, Xue Lor, has raised $2,000 from 14 donors total. Of Benjamin’s funding sources Lor says, “I don’t think most citizens understand the impact of this kind of money on city government or their everyday lives.”
Lor says he will limit spending on principle. “The reason I take mostly private donations is because I feel I cannot speak for the public if I was elected into office because of big money from local organizations.”
Steve McCoid’s data shows that 92% of his campaign dollars come from the local Chamber of Commerce PAC, the Home Builders PAC, his personal resources or out-of-state contributors.
In contrast Scott Bassett, also running in Ward 4, has collected 93% of his funding from individuals and small donations.
“My campaign is supported by a broad range of Salem residents,” Bassett says, “representing many political views. There’s no big money from special interest groups I will feel compelled to reward as a city councilor.”
Bassett adds that his financial and volunteer support has come mostly from “average folks who want a city councilors who is well-informed , and they feel an independent approach is just what Salem needs.”
Several candidates stand out as receiving the majority of their contributions from individuals and small donations.
In the Ward 2 race, Tom Andersen has received more than 93% from these sources and Brad Swank has received 60%, The third person running in the Ward, Sheronne Blasi, has not publicly disclosed her financial information.
Beginning April 8, all candidates will be required to post all contributions and expenses within 7 days. This means that on April 15, most campaign financing for the year will appear on ORESTAR.