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Proposed legislation would strengthen Average Joes voice in Oregon elections

Campaign spending in Oregon is spinning out of control; voters in our state suffer under the second-highest (per capita) campaign costs in America, coming in second only to New Jersey. That's because Oregon is one of only three states with no campaign contribution limits.

Every two years, elections in this state become more outrageously expensive than ever before. Every two years, Oregon voters become more and more overwhelmed with a mind-numbing barrage of high-cost campaign commercials and mailers, too many of them negative and misleading.

We have got to do something about that before Oregon voters decide, battered by all that expensive noise, that their individual voices won't make a difference, so perhaps their votes won't either. We cannot afford to have many more good Oregon citizens dropping out of the political process.

For that reason Rep. Jefferson Smith, D-Portland, and I are leading an effort, supported by other representatives from around the state, in sponsoring House Bill 2239 and House Joint Resolution 3, which, if approved by voters, will limit campaign spending in Oregon.

We understand that voters need information from candidates in order to decide who will get their votes, and we understand that money is necessary to get those messages out.

We are not trying to eliminate all money from politics. What we want to do is put limits in place that will apply downward pressure to campaign spending, while at the same time create a campaign-funding system that encourages small donors by making sure their donations matter.

Our government is obligated to support and encourage the exercise of free speech and open debate.

I believe that means our government is obligated to create a system where the voice of the individual can be heard, where the contributions of the small donor will matter and where the work of the individual volunteer will make a difference, rather than having the process controlled by those who prefer simply to sign a huge check and walk away.

Several attempts have been made by legislators on both sides of the political aisle to limit campaign spending in Oregon. I believe my proposal is the most nuanced and evenly balanced approach to campaign-contribution limits that has ever been brought before our Legislature.

Details of the two companion bills will be on our legislative website (leg.state.or.us/matthews) soon, under the 'News' section.

Please contact your state legislators and encourage their support for HB 2239 and HJR 3. We can no longer afford a system where vast tides of special-interest campaign cash wash in and drown the voices of individual Oregonians.

Rep. Greg Matthews, D-Gresham, is in his second term in the Oregon House.