Oregon voters, if you like political attack ads and negative campaigns, this fall’s election campaign could be a little slice of heaven.
State politicians and interest groups have been racing to form political action committees — the sort of entities that claim independence from candidates they support but which often bankroll ads attacking opposing candidates or statewide initiatives. It’s an arrangement that lets candidates themselves appear to be taking the high road, secure in the knowledge that other entities are taking care of the mudslinging.
In July, for example, Gov. Kate Brown formed two separate political action committees, according to news stories in The Oregonian. One of these committees, dubbed Team Oregon, initially financed with $100,000 from the governor’s re-election campaign, seeks to re-elect the governor and to maintain Democratic majorities in the Legislature. The other political action committee Brown formed in July is called Defend Oregon’s Values; this committee apparently will bankroll attack ads against her Republican opponent, Knute Buehler.
To be fair, Brown already has been the target of attack ads this campaign season. In January, for example, a business-backed group called Priority Oregon launched a negative ad campaign against the governor. Earlier this summer, a nonprofit organization called Oregon Foster Families First paid for a television ad calling for Brown to “start putting our families first.” The director of the group declined to tell The Oregonian who had paid for the ads — and, in this case, is not legally required to do so.
For their part, Oregon Republicans have formed a political action committee called No Supermajorities PAC, which seeks to prevent Democrats from gaining the three-fifths supermajority they need to raise taxes without any Republican support. (Democrats need to win just one additional seat in each chamber to get the supermajority.)
It’s a good bet that Brown’s supporters will spend some PAC money creating attack ads targeting Buehler, and you can expect the same from political action committees for Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice, which already have targeting the Republican candidate. Public employee unions are also supporting Brown, including through the political nonprofit Our Oregon.(Independent Party candidate Patrick Starnes must be wondering what he has to do to become the target of a negative ad campaign; such a campaign could boost his name recognition.)
And we’ve just scratched the surface of the political action committees that aim to make noise during the fall elections.
It’s all going to add up to a considerable amount of electoral clamor this fall, which could drown out reasoned conversation and reflection about the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate and the five statewide measures on the ballot.
Voters often lament each election’s tsunami of negative campaigning, but campaign strategists will tell you there’s a reason why you see so much of it: It works.
But you can strike a blow against this kind of campaigning by doing something revolutionary this election: Ignore the clamor. Turn down the volume on the screaming sound bites on TV and radio. Dig a little deeper. Take the time to do your own assessment of the candidates and the ballot measures (with only five statewide measures on the ballot, this would be a good election to get into that habit.) Which candidates are the best match for your own beliefs? Which candidates seem to be best equipped to offer real leadership? Which candidates seem to demonstrate that independent streak that Oregon voters value?
As for ballot measures, sometimes a careful reading of the text can expose strengths and weaknesses. Which measures would improve Oregon’s quality of life — and which ones seem to be half-baked?
In the increasing noise that surrounds our campaigns, this sort of quiet reflection isn’t just revolutionary: It’s downright subversive.