A decision by the Oregon Supreme Court may doom the chances of campaign finance limits reaching voters in the 2022 general election.
In an unsigned opinion released Friday, March 18, the justices declined to order Secretary of State Shemia Fagan to reverse her denial of three initiatives proposed by advocates. Fagan did so on a technical requirement that the initiatives failed to carry the full text, including sections of current law that the initiatives would not change.
The court could allow reconsideration of the case. But even though advocates say they will do so by the March 22 deadline, the court rarely grants such motions.
“Secretary Fagan’s interpretation of the Oregon Constitution denies Oregonians their only chance this year to vote on getting big money out of Oregon politics,” said James Ofsink, a chief petitioner for the three measures and president of Portland Forward. “Moving the bar also creates a high degree of uncertainty for future initiative petitioners.”
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Advocates argued that previous interpretations of the full-text requirement require only the wording of the proposed changes in state law or the Oregon Constitution.
Oregon is among a handful of states with no limits on campaign contributions or spending.
Each of the three proposed initiatives had received the 1,000 voter signatures required for the attorney general to write an official summary, known as a ballot title, before an initiative can be circulated for signatures.
Advocates must submit at least 112,020 signatures by July 8 — the secretary of state has 30 days to verify them — for Oregon voters on Nov. 8 to decide the proposed changes in state law. (The total is determined by the number of votes cast for governor in the most recent election; the Oregon Constitution fixes the share at 6%.)
Voters in 2020 approved a constitutional change that enables voters or lawmakers to regulate campaign contributions or spending without running afoul of the constitutional guarantee of free expression. But the Legislature did not act in its most recent sessions.
Advocates said they would have chosen one of the three proposed initiatives to proceed with.
The court said this in its opinion:
“And this is not a case in which exceptional circumstances persuade us that the issue that relators raise is so novel and significant, and that immediate resolution is so imperative, that we should exercise our discretionary mandamus jurisdiction on an expedited basis.
“In a circumstance like this, in which petitioners propose a change in Oregon law but their petition is disqualified by the secretary, petitioners’ efforts may be delayed, but they are not foreclosed. In that circumstance, petitioners typically have an opportunity to resubmit the same or a similar measure in the relatively near future. And here, relators could have begun the initiative process earlier, so that, if the secretary identified deficiencies, relators could have taken timely steps to contest or cure them within the same election cycle.”