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Kristof’s cash isn’t tied to court decision on his bid for governor

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Oregon Capital Bureau

Nicholas Kristof’s campaign for governor is projected to pass the $2 million fundraising mark on Friday, even as the Oregon Supreme Court considers whether he can run at all.

If the answer is no, Kristof will be able to keep the cash in his state campaign finance fund for use on a future race or to dole out to other candidates.

Kristof quit his job as a columnist for the New York Times to run for governor of Oregon. A native of Yamhill County, he now lives on a farm in the area.

He formed a campaign finance committee in October 2021, listing himself as a Yamhill County resident and his occupation as “Journalist, Author, Farmer.” 

The Oregon constitution says a candidate for governor must have lived in the state for three years prior to running. The definition of what constitutes residency is largely unspecified.

Kristof has argued that he has always considered himself an Oregon resident and offered hundreds of pages of comments, writings and other material to back up the claim.

But Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan announced Jan. 6 that a review of voting and tax documents led her to decide Kristof was a New York resident for much of the past three years and therefore did not qualify to run for governor.

“The rules are the rules and they apply equally to all candidates for office in Oregon,” Fagan said in a statement.

Kristof appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court, saying the Democratic establishment in the state was trying to keep voters from deciding if they wanted him in the state’s top job.

Two top Democrats from Portland had already announced plans to run: House Speaker Tina Kotek and Treasurer Tobias Read. Fagan was a Democratic state senator from Portland prior to election as secretary of state in 2020. 

“A failing political establishment in Oregon has chosen to protect itself, rather than give voters a choice,” Kristof said.

Fagan supported having the jurists make the final decision.

While the legal roadblock has stymied Kristof for the time being, he’s continued to campaign and raise funds. The money will stay with his campaign operation, no matter what the court rules.

“At no point is he required to stop raising money nor is there a requirement to return any contributions,” said Molly Woon, Fagan’s spokeswoman. The Secretary of State Elections Division regulates state political contributions.

Kristof has declined to discuss the “what ifs” of losing his appeal, including what he would do with the campaign funds.

“Having presented a strong legal case, Nick is actively campaigning and expects to be on the ballot, as do the thousands of Oregonians in 35 of 36 counties who support him,” said Melissa Navis, spokeswoman for the “Nick for Oregon” campaign committee.

There’s relatively little to regulate. Oregon has one of the most liberal campaign finance laws in the nation, due to court rulings that determined limits are a violation of the freedom of speech guaranteed in the state constitution.

Any person, company, group or other entity can give an unlimited amount of money, as long as it is reported. Nike founder Phil Knight contributed over $2 million to the unsuccessful 2018 governor’s campaign of former Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend.

While Kristof’s legal limbo could stretch to the end of the month, his fundraising hasn’t skipped a beat. He’s logged 52 reported contributions since Jan. 1, totaling just over $134,000.

Kristof has touted receiving contributions from thousands of Oregon voters all over the state. The amounts are small enough that the individuals often do not have to be identified in state campaign finance reports.

But the biggest spenders on Kristof’s effort continue to be from outside of Oregon.

Since the beginning of 2022, the campaign has received $50,000 from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman of Menlo Park, California, and former Disney Co. chair Robert A. Iger, who lives in Albany, New York.

Another $10,000 was given by New York investor Dennis Mehiel. Other contributions include $5,000 from Colorado philanthropist and environmental activist Jill Soffer. 

Of the 14 contributions of $1,000 or more, only one came from an Oregon resident: $1,000 from Portland attorney Robert Schlachter

Kristof has been ramping up his campaign spending as well, with nearly $65,000 in reported expenditures since the beginning of the year, including $10,000 for Scottsdale, Arizona-based Brainstorm Consulting.

Berger Hirschberg Strategies consultants in Washington, D.C. received $19,300.86, while $6,250 was spent with Washington, D.C.-based advertising firm GMMB.

Bully Pulpit Interactive, a San Francisco communications company, received $10,000. Authentic Campaigns, a consultant firm based in Richmond, Virginia, received payments totaling $9,500.

Kristof still has $1.9 million in the bank, a campaign fund second only to the $2.9 million raised by former Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, who is mounting an unaffiliated campaign for governor.

As an independent candidate, Johnson would skip the primary and plans to submit about 24,000 verified signatures to the secretary of state by the end of August. If she meets the number, she would go on the November ballot to face the winner of the Democratic and Republican primaries.

Woon said it would be up to Kristof whether he wanted to return any contributions. If he decides to close the campaign fund, he would have to disburse all the money before terminating the operation.

The campaign for governor is already starting to cause shifts in the race. Kotek had originally announced plans to hold on to her position as speaker, along with her seat in the House, until new lawmakers were seated in January 2023. But she announced after New Year’s Day that she would leave as of Friday.

Casey Kulla, a Yamhill County supervisor who was mounting a underdog bid for the Democratic nomination for governor, announced Thursday afternoon that he would instead seek the non-partisan office of Bureau of Labor and Industries commissioner. 

Val Hoyle, the current labor commissioner, dropped her re-election bid last month to run instead for the congressional seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield

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