Confronted with questions about the appropriateness of her campaign spending, including using campaign funds to pay for international travel, resorts, food, and to rent office space owned by her husband, former state representative and House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson dropped out of the race for Oregon Secretary of State earlier this week. She’s not the first politician to succumb to the temptation of putting campaign cash to work for herself personally, and she likely won’t be the last, but this is a good moment to reflect on the impact that massive funds, particularly when all stacked up on one side, have on the political process.
Oregon has weak laws governing the use of campaign funds, so while it’s likely Williamson hasn’t technically broken the letter of the law, the Willamette Week article exposing her suspicious use of campaign dollars was evidently embarrassing enough to force her bitter withdrawal from a race she was reportedly leading. But the real exposé here is on the inequity of the distribution of campaign cash.
With one notable exception, both sides of the political spectrum raise grass roots money and squeeze the business and special interest lobbies fairly equally.
That one exception? The cash donations that government unions and their affiliated groups pour almost exclusively into liberal candidates and causes.
Williamson, for example, has well over $100,000 left in her campaign war chest, with over $66,000 coming directly from government unions and affiliated interest groups.
When certain candidates can accumulate such an overwhelming amount of money that they no longer need to spend it on campaigns – such that they get tempted to spend it on themselves, as Williamson apparently did – perhaps some campaign finance reform is needed.
Or perhaps the real problem is the one Freedom Foundation is fighting to correct every day.
We’ve seen firsthand that when public employees understand how union leaders spend their hard-earned money and witness the partisan candidates and causes to which they align themselves, many choose to opt out of paying union dues and fees entirely.
And that’s a win for democracy.
Every public employee who chooses to opt out and keep union leaders from spending their paychecks on political causes they disagree with ultimately means fewer dollars sloshing disproportionately to one side of the spectrum – and that brings all of us a little bit closer to a truly representative system in which only political dollars get spent on politics.