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Three-way race for Oregon governor generating tsunami of campaign cash

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Oregon Capital Bureau

A $100,000 check from a longtime conservative Oregon political donor to Republican Christine Drazan.

One for $100,000 to Betsy Johnson’s insurgent campaign from a construction industry group.

Two liberal political action campaigns top off at the same level in their total giving to Democrat Tina Kotek.

The top candidates for governor continue to pile up stacks of cash in the race to the top of Oregon’s political pyramid.

The trio has raised over $17.1 million since January 2021, on pace to blow past the 2018 record of $40 million when Democratic Gov. Kate Brown beat former Republican Rep. Knute Buehler of Bend.

The primaries are two months past and the general election more than three months away. The latest reports filed with the Oregon Secretary of State show a fluid financial situation.

Kotek and Drazan are coming off a May primary that saw the pair emerge from a combined roster of 34 candidates lured by the first open governor’s race since 2010.

Dollar figures can be deceiving. Kotek reports $500,000 in the bank — 10% of what Johnson has tucked away. 

Drazan has over $300,000 from the Republican Governors Association. Kotek has $53,000 from the Democratic governors.

Kotek’s spokesperson Katie Wertheimer says it’s a wrinkle of post-primary financial report timing, not a measure of long-term strength. Little of the recent money shows the reaction to the Supreme Court ruling in late June gutting Roe v. Wade abortion rights in place since 1973.

“We’ve also seen a huge uptick in interest in volunteering to help Tina win in November,” Wertheimer said. “We’re confident that we will have the resources to win.”

Drazan won the Republican primary with 23% of the vote and now has to rally the splintered factions behind her campaign as GOP standard-bearer. The six-figure national GOP commitment along with sizeable donations from business interests and activist donors is ramping up into late summer.

“No statewide GOP candidate in recent history has enjoyed the fundraising success Christine has had,” said John Burke, Drazan’s communications director. “We’re excited to have so many new supporters on board since the primary and we’re ready to deliver a historic victory this November.”

On the flip side, Johnson’s $9.5 million in contributions is $1 million more than Kotek and Drazan combined.

It’s a formidable amount. But the former Democratic state senator from Columbia County still has to get on the November ballot and build a statewide campaign apparatus from scratch.

“We are in the home stretch of signature gathering and will far surpass the approximately 25,000 valid signatures we need to secure by Aug. 16 to put Betsy’s name on the November ballot,” said Jennifer Sitton, Johnson’s spokesperson.

While her current money totals may dwarf her competitors, its a head start to build a bulwark against the likely flood of national party money that will flow into the race after Labor Day.

“We are proud of our fundraising, but know the party institutions are preparing to back up the Brinks trucks to spend it all attacking Betsy,” Sitton said.

The 2022 race is already unique in Oregon political history and will mark major shifts no matter the outcome.

There’s no incumbent for the first time in a decade. 

Kotek is looking to run the Democratic consecutive win streak in elections for governor to an even dozen. She’d be the first openly lesbian governor in United States history.

Drazan would be the first Republican governor since Vic Atiyeh was re-elected in 1982, before half of Oregon residents were even born. She’d be the first Republican woman to hold the office.

Johnson is making the longest shot, a bid to be the second governor since statehood in 1859 that wasn’t backed by a major political party.  Julius Meier served one term after winning an independent bid in 1930 amid the Great Depression.

Each candidate will use their copious cash to cast the other two as political pairs.

Kotek says Johnson and Drazan are too far right for progressive Oregon, especially on gun control and the environment.

Drazan says Johnson and Kotek are a Democratic duo, who will drive inflation higher and increase the size of state government.

Johnson says Kotek is too far left and Drazan too far right from what she says is the moderate middle that is left out of the parties’ closed primaries.

With the choices cut from nearly three dozen to three, the political money will flow, along with daily emails and texts, YouTube ads, television commercials, blizzards of press releases and polls. 

In just the past month:

Construction industry group AGC Committee for Action gave $100,000 on July 15 to Johnson. Timber and construction money has given her campaign a slew of big, early boosts with six-figure contributions.

Longtime Oregon donor Norman Brenden of Silverton gave $100,000 on July 19 to Drazan’s campaign, an amount that tops dozens outside of the $306,949 given by the Republican Governors Association. As the only anti-abortion candidate in the race, Drazan has already received the endorsement of Oregon Right to Life and its long list of activists donors.

Given past governor campaigns, the $50,000 or so given by Democratic governors will grow with each month. Kotek has received large donations from labor, environmental and social activist groups. Stand for Children PAC this month upped its total contributions to Kotek to $96,694.18. LPAC, advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, doubled down with another $50,000 to bring its 2022 campaign total to $100,000.

A major question: The final tally thrown into the battle by Oregon’s biggest political wallet, Nike founder Phil Knight.

The athletic-wear billionaire gave heavily to Republican near-miss campaigns for governor in 2010 and 2018. 

In 2022, he’s thrown his lot in with Johnson, giving $1.75 million so far. 

Johnson has said she is willing to raise $25 million for the race. Democrats and Republicans would spin the cash spigots wide open to keep pace.

If earlier races for governor are any indication, Knight is unlikely to stay on the sidelines if Johnson has a strong shot going into the final weeks before Nov. 8.


Governor candidates campaign finances

Contributions and expenditures since Jan. 1, 2021. Source: Oregon Secretary of State, as of July 21, 2022. All amounts are rounded down to the nearest dollar.

Christine Drazan, Republican

Raised: $4,379,148

Spent: $3,138,440

Cash on hand: $1,320,202


Betsy Johnson, unaffiliated

Raised: $9,547057

Spent: $5,455,414

Cash on hand: $4,621,350


Tina Kotek, Democrat

Raised: $3,271,424

Spent: $2,906,873

Cash on hand: $454,195


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