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Elizabeth Warren lends a hand to Merkley re-election bid

Colleague returns support demonstrated by Oregon senator.


When Elizabeth Warren sought support in 2009 for a new federal agency to police consumer finance, she got it from Jeff Merkley, then in his first year as a U.S. senator from Oregon.

Although Congress created the agency as part of a financial services overhaul in 2010, Merkley and other Democrats in the Senate were unable to secure Warren's confirmation as its first permanent director in 2011.

So Harvard professor Warren went out and won a U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts in 2012 — and she returned the favor Wednesday, when she appeared at two Portland fundraisers benefiting Merkley's bid for a second six-year term.

"I am here today because Jeff Merkley said amen" to the effort to create the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, Warren told more than 1,000 people at the Portland Hilton.

"I explained that if we had that (agency) going back then, we would not have ended up with a financial crisis in 2008," when subprime mortgages ended in foreclosures and the bonds they backed failed and triggered a near-collapse of financial markets.

Merkley sat on the Senate Banking Committee, which shaped the 2010 legislation, and Warren joined him on that panel after her election in 2012.

Between the 1,000-person fundraiser and a smaller gathering, the events keynoted by Warren raised a combined $250,000 for the Merkley campaign and for a statewide effort for all Democratic candidates. Campaign spokesman Jamal Raad offered no breakdown between them, although he said proceeds from the larger $100-per-person event would go to Merkley's campaign.

In a Rasmussen Reports poll conducted just after the May 20 primary, Merkley led Republican nominee Monica Wehby, a Portland physician making her first bid for public office, by 47 percent to 37 percent. The margin of error among the 750 voters sampled was 4 percentage points.

Merkley declined comment on reports filed with Portland police by Wehby's former husband and former boyfriend alleging her stalking during the breakup of relationships. Neither report resulted in charges being filed. Both reports surfaced in the final days of Wehby's primary fight against state Rep. Jason Conger of Bend. Wehby's campaign asserted a link to someone who worked for Raad while he was working for the Democratic Party of Oregon, but Merkley refused to be drawn into the matter.

Warren has drawn national recognition for her outspokenness.

"Her powerful draw is that she is talking about fighting for an America that works for working Americans — and she is willing to take it on," Merkley told reporters after her talk.

Like Merkley, Warren was born in a small town and was the first in the family to go to college.

But she said it's increasingly difficult for today's students to do the same without going into debt, because government policies favor tax breaks for corporations and high-end households over aid to students, research and public works projects — and those tax breaks are promoted by lobbyists and supported by Republicans.

She also said there's one standard for the rich and powerful, and another for everyone else.

"A kid who gets caught with a few ounces of pot goes to jail," she said. "But when a bank breaks the law in laundering drug money or manipulating the currency, no one ever gets arrested. The game is rigged."

Although she campaigned for the Senate as an outsider — especially as a critic of big banks and other financial institutions she believes should face greater government scrutiny — Merkley said Warren is influencing the debate inside the Senate.

"To boil this down, this is about a fair shot for every American," Merkley told reporters. "That has a lot of resonance among my colleagues."

Merkley, in his introduction of Warren, said he shares her sentiments.

"We have a responsibility to ensure that every child in America can believe that pathway (to success) is open because it is," he said. "Right now, it's not."

Warren also promoted her new memoir, "A Fighting Chance," during a stop at Powell's Cedar Hills Crossing.

She was scheduled Thursday to appear in Seattle with Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who is not up for re-election.

Earlier this month, she made a book-promotion stop in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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