Race illustrates need for reform
The massive amount of money spent by Rep. Karen Minnis and challenger Rob Brading in last month's House District 49 election provides all the evidence anyone might need to support campaign-finance reform.
According to final contribution and expenditure reports filed with the Oregon secretary of state, Minnis topped $1 million in winning re-election, while Brading spent about $550,000. Together, their spending came close to the $1.6 million mark in a race that involved 16,512 voters.
That equals about $100 a vote, and we're not even considering the hundreds of thousands of dollars expended by independent groups to support or attack the two candidates.
With all that money came an unprecedented amount of negativity. The dollars did nearly nothing to enlighten voters - they were used mostly to distort, attack and respond.
The Minnis-Brading race could be a case study for a proposed Commission on Campaign Finance Reform - a group that the 2007 Legislature has been asked to appoint. The campaign-finance commission was recommended by another advisory body - the Public Commission on the Oregon Legislature, which recently submitted its final report to legislators.
The public commission (For the record: Outlook Publisher Mark Garber was a member) has outlined areas that the campaign-finance group should consider, including:
• Separating legislative decisions from the influence of campaign contributions.
• Controlling escalating campaign costs and spending.
• Shifting the balance of campaign activity away from fund-raising toward increased issue discussion and voter engagement.
• Decreasing candidate and party dependence on donations from special-interest groups.
All of these concepts are well worth pursuing. Admittedly, it's easier to make broad statements than it is to write laws that protect freedom of expression while also discouraging excessive campaign spending. But the Legislature should view campaign-finance reform as a necessary step toward repairing its credibility with the public.
As first-hand witnesses to the Minnis-Brading spending contest, East County voters should be among those urging the Legislature to appoint the campaign-finance commission and to heed its recommendations.