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Nike’s Phil Knight gives $1 million to Drazan

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Oregon Capital Bureau

Nike co-founder Phil Knight is hedging his bet on the outcome of the Oregon governor’s race, giving $1 million on Thursday to Republican Christine Drazan.

The move comes after Knight has given unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson $3.75 million, the largest contribution total of his long involvement in Oregon political races.

Knight’s dual contributions to the two candidates helped push total fundraising for the governor’s race to over $45 million, a new record for a campaign for an Oregon political office.

Knight’s ultimate goal is to defeat Tina Kotek — he’s given $4.75 million to date to candidates opposing the Democratic nominee. The change in tactics comes amid a flurry of polls and forecasts that show Drazan as neck-and-neck in the campaign with Kotek.

Polls issued over the past week by the Oregonian newspaper and Emerson College, along with forecasts by FiveThirtyEight and the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, also shared a common theme: Johnson’s insurgent campaign was drawing less than 20% of voters.

The three-way race for governor has blown past the record for fundraising set four years ago, with millions more likely to flow to campaign coffers in the month left until the Nov. 8 election.

Knight gave $2 million to Betsy Johnson, the unaffiliated candidate for governor, on Sept. 1. It was the biggest splash in a cascade of cash that also went to Kotek and Drazan. 

As of Thursday afternoon, the constantly shifting totals of campaign contributions showed just over $45 million had been raised for the 2022 race since Jan. 1, 2021.

The previous record for an Oregon governor’s race was set in 2018, when incumbent Gov. Kate Brown defeated the Republican challenger, former Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend. The final tab on the race hit $40 million.

As in 2018, the biggest wallet in the race has been Knight’s. He backed Buehler in 2018.

Buehler left the Republican party and is now supporting Johnson.

Knight had also backed Johnson over Drazan, until Thursday afternoon’s $1 million drop into Drazan’s account.

Johnson — and now Drazan — have benefited from the continued support of Knight, 84, the richest person in Oregon, according to the Bloomberg News Service, with an estimated worth of $35.7 billion. He is ranked as the 29th richest person in the world. 

The Beaverton billionaire has tumbled down the rankings over the past two years as the stock of Nike has taken a beating due to the downturn in sales during COVID-19.

Bloomberg says Knight and his family were worth $65.1 billion in late November 2021, and $42.5 billion as recently as mid-September. Knight’s wealth is largely tied to Nike. Nike’s portfolio includes the Converse and Jordan sportswear brands.

The 2022 totals do not include third-party spending for negative ads, which has been a major feature of the 2022 campaign as digital advertising has taken in a larger portion of political money than in previous years.

The September contribution by Knight to Johnson was the largest of 14 individual contributions of over $250,000 reported by the three candidates for governor over the past month. 

The full scope of money piling up in the campaign coffers of the trio only fully emerged in the past few days. As of Sept. 27, Oregon election law requires campaigns to transition to a shorter deadline for reporting money raised and spent. Previously, campaigns could wait 30 days to tell the Secretary of State about money coming in and going out.

The old deadline gave a warped view of campaign finances. In the governor’s race, unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson used the full 30 days before reporting transactions. 

Kotek and Drazan usually reported new contributions and spending within a week.

Now all campaigns have to get their reports in within one week.

Ben Morris, a spokesman for Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, explained the change wasn’t a quick switch, with full reports not immediately available last week.

“It’s a bit more complicated,” Morris said. “There’s a ‘catch up’ period in between the 30-day and seven-day reporting.”

But as of Tuesday, all contributions more than a week old should have been submitted.

Johnson’s “catch-up” list of contributions reported the past week included $300,000 more from Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle, who’s given to Johnson a total of $663,885. Eugene-based construction industry company The Pape Group gave $250,000, upping its total to $750,682.

Red Emmerson gave $300,000 to Johnson via California-based Sierra Pacific Industries, his timberlands and sawmills company. He’s now given $500,682.

Knight and Emmerson have also contributed heavily to Bring Balance to Salem, a PAC with former U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, as its consultant.

The PAC has raised over $4.8 million for its stated goal of defeating Democrats in legislative races. Bankrolled by Knight and a large number of contributions of over $100,000 from construction and timber interests, the committee has not given money to any candidate in the governor’s race.

Some of Drazan’s largest donations in the past 30 days have included $2.5 million from the Republican Governors Association. The national GOP group has given a total of just over $4.08 million to Drazan. She also received $250,000 from Murphy Plywood of Eugene, which has now contributed a total of $350,000. Associated General Contractors Committee for Action gave Drazan $250,000, for a total of $350,000 so far.

Democrat Tina Kotek’s biggest contributions in the past month include $2.25 million from the Democratic Governors Association, $350,000 from the Democratic Party of Oregon (for a total so far of $552,500), and $330,000 from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, whose giving to Kotek is now at $580,000. Other large contributions came from the AFSCME labor union, and Stand for Children political action committee. 

Governor’s campaign totals as of Thursday, according to the Oregon Secretary of State Election Division:

Christine Drazan, Republican

Raised: $13,898,037

Spent: $10,481,167

on hand: $3,504,987

Tina Kotek, Democrat

Raised: $14,941,456 

Spent: $12.6217131

On hand: $2,335,128

Betsy Johnson, Unaffiliated

Raised: $16,451,603 

Spent: $14,438,115

On hand: $1,867,951

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