News Release

Report: Oregon Large Political Donors Outmatched Small Donors 14 to One in 2016

For Immediate Release

For Immediate Release

Contact: Charlie Fisher, 206-853-5725, cfisher@ospirg.org

Portland, OR - Days before the Oregon Legislature convenes for a month-long session and considers a proposal to make changes to how elections are financed, OSPIRG Foundation released a report examining the sizable disparity between large donors and small donors in Oregon’s elections. The report finds that in the 2016 election season, just over 700 large donors contributed nearly fourteen times more than all small donors combined – a group comprised of an estimated 31,000 donors.

“One person, one vote. That’s how it’s supposed to work,” said Charlie Fisher, State Director of OSPIRG Foundation and co-author of the report. “Unfortunately, in Oregon large donors and special interests are able to have a louder voice than everyone else, simply as a result of the size of their pocketbook. This undermines our democracy and leaves everyday people out in the cold.”

The report, “Big Money in Oregon State Elections” finds that in the 2016 election alone:

  • Approximately 31,000 donors contributed $250 or less, totaling $2.5 million.
  • In contrast, the 723 large donors that gave $5,000 or more contributed over $34.9 million.
  • Just the largest 25 donors accounted for $16.3 million, outspending all small donors 6.4 to 1.
  • While ballot measure races had the largest gap, significant disparities exist between large and small donors across the board. For candidate races in 2016, just over 400 large donors gave nearly four times that of all small donors.
  • A significant portion of large donor money came from out of state. Of total money given to campaigns by large donors, only 44 percent came from donors in Oregon; of campaign contributions made by small donors, almost 80 percent came from state residents.

The report also highlights the role that money plays in deciding who runs for office in the first place. Many qualified Oregonians without access to big donors simply decide not to run because they don’t have access to the large donors needed to mount a viable campaign.

 “I’d like to see a system where candidates are encouraged to ask more people for donations, and not just hoping one person will give them $1,000 or more,” said Thuy Tran, a Portland business owner who has run for office and is featured in the report “That would level the playing field for people who want to enter a race but don’t have money or access to money.” The report highlights steps that states like Oregon can take to bring more balance to elections, including a small donor matching system—a program that matches small contributions from state residents at a six-to-one ratio. According to the report’s analysis, had such a system been in place in Oregon in 2016, small donor money would have outweighed that of large donor money by 50%.

Over a dozen state legislators have co-sponsored legislation to be introduced next week that would implement a similar system for legislative races in Oregon.

“I’m excited to co-sponsor a reform that would empower everyday Oregonians in our elections,” said State Representative Diego Hernandez (D-Portland), “If we want a democracy that truly represents the public, we need to create an alternative to the current way we finance elections.”

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