A complaint filed by the Freedom Foundation last week with the Oregon Secretary State’s Election Division alleges a union-backed political group committed what could amount to the costliest violations of campaign finance law in state history.
”Our Oregon” — an organization that almost certainly got its name from the labor unions that overwhelmingly fund it — is well known in political circles, having run most of the state’s progressive ballot measure campaigns in recent memory.
To the average Oregon voter, however, it doesn’t appear that way.
That’s because the group has been flagrantly violating state election law for many years by failing to register as a political committee (PAC) and report any of its campaign contributions or expenditures.
Despite receiving millions of dollars in contributions over the past several years for ballot measure work (the very definition of a “political committee” under Oregon law), Our Oregon has never once disclosed any of the transactions. Instead, the organization claims a broader purpose and operates through a variety of other PACs — effectively deceiving Oregon voters about the extent of its influence in statewide elections.
If confirmed by the Elections Division, each of the group’s several hundred violations documented by the Freedom Foundation could carry up to a $1,000 fine.
And that’s not all. By serving as the “middleman” between unions and the campaigns they fund, Our Oregon has potentially committed a far worse crime. State law prohibits entities from making campaign contributions under a “false name” — which, in addition to being exactly what it sounds like, is a Class-C felony punishable by a maximum penalty of $125,000 and jail time.
While only time will tell whether the Secretary of State’s Office will pursue an enforcement action, it’s important to realize it’s not just voters who have been hurt by Our Oregon’s alleged lawbreaking.
Government union leaders are fond of saying they don’t use their members’ dues on politics, pointing earnestly to so-called “segregated PAC funds” and boasting about how their rank-and-file members just love to voluntarily contribute to the union’s political activity come election season.
But while this is a bald-faced lie to begin with, there’s also another glaring problem — because Our Oregon hasn’t registered as a PAC, the unions providing the vast majority of its financial support haven’t even tried to keep up the charade. Every single dollar has been forcibly plucked from public employees’ paychecks whether they wanted to pay it or not — and although the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME ended the formal practice of forcing public employees to pay union dues and fees, that hasn’t stopped certain union leaders from doing whatever it takes to keep the money coming in.
Our Oregon may portray itself as a “broad coalition” of interests, but in reality the organization is nothing more than a union front group created and funded to impose organized labor’s will on Oregon elections with almost no accountability from the people who pay for it.
Until now. Because whether it’s filing a lawsuit, initiating a campaign finance investigation or simply making sure public employees know exactly what their dues are paying for, the Freedom Foundation will continue working to ensure that government unions and their allies obey the law like everybody else.