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A cautionary note as election season enters full swing

CREATIVE OUTLET - Polls conducted in 2015 by the Pew Research Center found that 76 percent of people believe money has a greater, and mostly negative, influence on politics today than ever before, and majorities of both Democrats (84 percent) and Republicans (72 percent) favor limiting the amount of money individuals and organizations can spend on campaigns and issues.

With the March filing deadlines behind us, the die has been cast for the upcoming May 17 primary election.

Over the next two months, the voices of those who are running for two contested positions on the Columbia County Board of Commissioners or who are seeking to establish a new public transportation tax district, and those of their supporters and detractors, will grow louder. Advertisements in this newspaper and radio broadcasts will seem to hit a fevered pitch just prior to Election Day. Already, in this week’s issue, there are numerous letters to the editor promoting specific candidates or political perspectives.

Still, this is the relative calm before the storm of Oregon’s, and Columbia County’s, election season.

It is also a time for preparation. As voters, we get to make an early choice about how we will receive the messages being fired at us.

Though at times the national election season seems to be operating on an infinity loop, and the challenge of a single voice rising above the clamor of partisan politics can seem insurmountable, as citizens living within numerous, relatively small election districts, we have real political capital. In past elections, the vote count separating victory and defeat has been significantly narrow as to require later runoff elections. Our individual voices matter, and each vote counts. Collectively, the future belongs to the people who cast a ballot, and the efforts and means used to influence voters today are as complicated and intense as they have ever been.

On the national level and in the wake of decisions such as Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, we have massive dollar amounts flowing directly into national candidates’ campaigns from large corporations or billionaire industrialists, or saturating politically important, and divided, battleground areas.

The struggle for the hearts and minds of voters in Columbia County has also intensified. In the May 2015 primary election, political action committees representing industrial interest at Port Westward heavily invested — comparatively — in the election of Port of St. Helens commissioners. PAC/West Communications sunk $30,000 into the effort to get former port President Robert Keyser and former Commissioners Colleen DeShazer and Mike Avent re-elected, with the money showing as pass-through dollars from the Building Trades PAC. The building trades PAC, in turn, had campaign dollars filtered into it from other interests at Port Westward, including those outside of the state of Oregon, a review of Oregon Secretary of State records show.

As we know, the effort didn’t work. Keyser was supplanted by Paulette Lichatowich, and DeShazer lost her bid to Scappoose’s Larry Erickson. But it wasn’t the first such time political maneuvering by outside financiers played a hand, and it’s unlikely to be the last.

Money is an inescapable fact of the modern political arena. And though Americans engaged in the political battlefield today don’t agree on much, we do agree that too much money — the ability to buy too much influence — in politics is a bad thing. Polls conducted in 2015 by the Pew Research Center found that 76 percent of people believe money has a greater, and mostly negative, influence on politics today than ever before, and majorities of both Democrats (84 percent) and Republicans (72 percent) favor limiting the amount of money individuals and organizations can spend on campaigns and issues.

Columbia County politics might seem like small potatoes in the greater scheme of campaign finance, but as its potential and the stakes grows, so too will the incursion from well-financed players who have a vested interest in helping determine the outcome of local elections.

For this and every election season, we ask that you pay special attention to the candidates and issues, be your own researcher and explore the state’s online Orestar campaign finance tool to find out who is contributing to a candidate or issue, consider what the effect will be on Columbia County, and vote what your heart tells you — not what someone else’s exceedingly deep pockets desperately want you to believe.