Patrick Starnes is still campaigning, but not for governor.
Starnes ran for governor as an independent in 2018. Although he dropped out of that race in October, he has continued to push for his top issue of campaign finance reform.
This week, he visited Roseburg and spoke with The News-Review about why he thinks it’s critical to get big money out of politics and how Oregonians might accomplish that.
Starnes is formerly from Lookingglass and was living in McKenzie Bridge in Lane County when he made a run for House District 7 back in 2014. He campaigned then on the idea of a junk food tax that would pay for healthcare reform. He said he faced the powerful soft drink lobby in trying to put that idea forward. But he said money in politics impacts every issue, from PERS to the proposed natural gas pipeline that would run through Douglas County to Coos Bay.
These days, he drives from his home in Brownsville to Salem every Wednesday to attend the meetings of the brand new Senate Committee on Campaign Finance.
A number of campaign finance reform bills have moved forward this session, though they’re presently stalled by the Republican senators’ walkout that started Thursday. Still, when the senators are in, Starnes said there’s broad bipartisan support for finance reform, even at the top. Gov. Kate Brown’s promise to push for reform helped convince Starnes to drop out of the race in 2018, and Republican Tim Knopp of Bend has pushed for it too, he said.
The bill Starnes particularly favors is Senate Joint Resolution 18. It would put a measure on the ballot in 2020, asking voters to amend the Oregon constitution to create campaign finance restrictions.
Starnes said big money from labor unions and corporations will come “crazy out of the woodwork” to fight finance reform. They’ll hope to sway voters against finance reform, Starnes said, but he thinks the voters might approve the SJR reforms anyway.
“The people are there. I’ve traveled all 36 counties, and it didn’t matter if they were cowboys in Eastern Oregon or hippies in Eugene, they were ready to get big money out. Everyone gets it, and it’s bipartisan,” Starnes said.
Starnes was less enthusiastic about House Bill 2714, which would have limited individual contributions to candidates in statewide races $2,800 but would not have limited PAC spending. It passed the House, but stalled in the Senate.
He favors some other bills that deal with notifying voters about who’s spending money outside of the campaigns for ads in support of a candidate. Often no one knows who the donors are, so it’s called dark money.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that type of spending is free speech, so it’s not possible for the state to stop it. However, what Oregon can do is insist that voters be notified who is spending the money on those ad, Starnes said.
Bills considered in the legislature this session would mandate top donors be listed on ads and mailers.
“We can’t limit it because of Citizens United, so it’s unlimited, but we can bring it out into the sunshine,” Starnes said.
Starnes said getting money out of politics would give other politicians the freedom he had during the gubernatorial race to do things like oppose the pipeline. He said the governor didn’t take a strong position on the pipeline and Republican candidate Knute Buehler favored it.
“I was the only one clearly against it. ‘Cause I had no strings attached. I didn’t have any big money coming in. And the same with healthcare. I was the only one that was clearly single payer,” he said.