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Election notes: Johnson ‘friends’ Facebook, Schrader blames Bend, and Kristof cash questions

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Oregon Capital Bureau

Cash flowing to Facebook during the 2022 campaign, a curt Kurt Schrader slam on Democrats in Bend and Portland, as well as a big knot of regulations tied to relatively small contributions from Nicholas Kristof to two congressional campaigns were among the political news this week in Oregon.

Johnson financially ‘friends’ Facebook

Betsy Johnson’s insurgent campaign for governor spent over $170,066 to buy Facebook advertising between April 20 and May 27. The spending is often in one or two daily buys of $900, according to campaign finance records with the secretary of state.

A longtime Democratic state senator from Scappoose, Johnson resigned her seat in mid-December to run for governor without party affiliation. She needs to submit just under 24,000 valid signatures to the secretary of state by Aug. 16 to qualify for a spot on the November ballot.

Former House Speaker Tina Kotek of Portland is the Democratic nominee for governor, while former House Minority Leader Christine Drazan won the GOP primary.

Johnson’s spending comes directly from her campaign fund to Facebook. State records show no direct spending with Facebook by either Kotek or Drazan. However, larger campaigns often will list expenditures on media buying companies that then make the individual transactions, which are not recorded in state records.

The growth of spending for political ads on the social media platform is illustrated by the 8,671 separate expenditures on Facebook by candidates and causes ranging from the far left to far right on the political spectrum. The largest individual expenditure is the several $900 buys by Johnson’s campaign.

In addition to Johnson, campaigns that have spent money with Facebook in 2022 include the liberal Portland City Council candidate Jo Ann Hardesty, the progressive Working Families Party and Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla, who switched from a bid for the Democratic nomination as governor to the non-partisan Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries.

On the other side of the political dividing line, Facebook ad buyers include the conservative Timber Unity and Move Oregon’s Border political campaign committees, as well as Baker City Mayor Kerry McQuisten, who ran as a populist-conservative GOP primary candidate for governor.

Facebook has contributed $3,500 between 2013 and 2018 to Johnson’s state senate campaigns.

Records with the Oregon Secretary of State show Facebook has made 151 contributions to Oregon campaign races since its first $1,000 contribution to former Sen. Chris Telfer, R-Bend, in 2011. Telfer lost a 2012 primary to now Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend.

Its largest contribution was $12,500 to the successful 2016 campaign to defeat Measure 97, a business tax proposal. It gave $7,500 to the 2014 re-election campaign of Gov. John Kitzhaber, and $5,000 to his campaign four years earlier.

All other contributions were for under $2,500 per candidate per race and range from campaigns of Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, and former House Minority Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, whose district included Prineville, where Facebook has spent over $2 billion to build its largest data center complex in the United States.

According to state records, Facebook has given Kotek five $1,000 contributions for five House races since 2012. Drazan received one $1,000 contribution from Facebook in her 2020 re-election campaign for the House.

In 2020, Facebook timed its contributions for no earlier than Oct. 27, just before the general election, when the transactions could be reported as much as seven days later.

Schrader blames Bend and Portland for the primary loss

U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, hit the media mute button after losing the May 17 Democratic primary for the 5th Congressional District. Challenger Jaime McLeod-Skinner, a Terrebonne attorney, won 55% of the vote to oust the seven-term moderate. She’ll face Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer of Canby, winner of the Republican race, in the Nov. 8 general election.

Schrader surfaced last week for a virtual interview from his home with Portland TV station KATU.

Redistricting for the 2022 election was the “beginning of the end” of his chances to remain in the U.S. House, Schrader said.

The boundaries of Schrader’s district were shifted east under maps primarily drawn by legislative Democrats in 2021. The new outline of his district included a shift north and a portion that reached east over the Cascades to include parts of Deschutes County. The new district contained less than half of his constituents from the old district.

Schrader said his “textbook campaign” was derailed by an infusion of what he said were left-leaning Democrats who weren’t tuned to the “working class” message that had won him 14 years on Capitol Hill.

“You move me into Portland, that’s not Kurt Schrader’s crowd, per se,” Schrader said in the KATU interview. “Neither is Bend. Bend’s extremely liberal — a lot of folks there from Seattle and California in the last 10 years — and I think that made a huge difference.”

In the race for governor, Schrader said: “there’s a significant chance” he wouldn’t back Kotek, the Democratic nominee. He would consider backing Johnson.

“I think people are exhausted by the extreme far-right Trumpites,” Schrader said. “I think they are very concerned about the socialist drift on the Democrat left. That opens up the middle. So we’ll see what happens.”

Kristof cash questioned

Two $1,000 contributions to Democratic congressional candidates in Oregon by Nick for Oregon, the political action committee created for the derailed Democratic primary campaign of former New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, set off a round of social media chatter this week.

When the Oregon Supreme Court ruled on Feb. 17 that Democratic candidate for governor Nicholas Kristof did not meet state residency requirements to run for office, Kristof — who has a farm in Yamhill County — had over $1 million left over in his campaign fund. After paying some campaign bills, the money sat quietly for most of the next two months. Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, who originally had ordered Kristof removed from the ballot, said that under Oregon law, the campaign funds did not have to be returned.

Since late April, Kristof has been making campaign contributions, including $10,000 to his former primary opponent, Kotek, who won the Democratic nomination. He also gave $10,000 to Doris Towery and $5,000 to Beth Wytoski, who are running for two different seats on the Yamhill County Commission.

Two much smaller contributions raised question marks. Kristof gave $1,000 to McLeod-Skinner. He also gave $1,000 to Andrea Salinas, the Democratic state representative from Lake Oswego who is the Democratic nominee in the 6th Congressional District centered around Salem.

The money was immediately questioned by conservatives on Twitter and other social media platforms. While Kristof could accept unlimited amounts of money under the loose state fundraising laws, congressional campaigns have many restrictions, including accepting money from corporations. Kristof’s campaign fund had received corporate money. The Oregon secretary of state’s campaign finance website showed the money going to an “unregistered committee.”

Congressional candidates raise money with political action committees registered with the Federal Elections Commission, not with the secretary of state. The FEC website did not reflect the contributions as of Friday — money given to candidates after April 27 has yet to be compiled by the FEC’s publicly available records.

Were the contributions unlawful?

A query to the FEC resulted in a non-answer email from Judith Ingram, an FEC press officer.

“We cannot comment on specific candidates or sets of circumstances,” she wrote.

She sent a link to a more than 900-word guide written in advance of the 2016 election on “nonfederal committees’ involvement in federal campaigns.”

Boiling down the material isn’t easy.

The gist is that money from state political action committees that accept contributions that don’t fall within the FEC rules are prohibited.

OK, so Kristof’s contributions are out of bounds?

Well … the citation goes on to say that if a contributor can show they have enough funds that do not violate FEC rules within their overall campaign fund, then they can contribute to the federal campaigns. Kristof’s mix of size and type of contributions can certainly show $2,000 that came in donations that wouldn’t break federal limits.

So, maybe the contributions are OK?

The FEC had no additional comment beyond the link to its website.

Both the giver and the recipient have to be able to show the money meets the federal contribution standards and the FEC can require the contributing PAC to register with the federal system for monitoring.

So far, no FEC red flags, so the money stays were it was sent.

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