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The curious case of Oregon measures 46 & 47

While reading the 2012 Oregon voter's guide, I noticed that Secretary of State candidates Seth Woolley and Robert Wolfe both call out the incumbent Kate Brown for not enforcing ballot measure 47. Measure 47 was approved by voters in 2006 and enacted strict campaign finance reforms. My first reaction was "that's outrageous!" and noted with some cynicism that the Republican challenger Knute Buehler was silent on the issue in his blurb.

After looking into the issue, I now agree with the Secretary's position. The issue is simple, and it is not as nefarious as the big two parties playing politics with the law. The simple matter is that measure 47 is unconstitutional. It relied on a partner measure 46 to amend the Oregon constitution to be enforceable. However, measure 46 was rejected by the voters (which makes an interesting case study in direct democracy). So the campaign finance reforms of measure 47 are on the books but unenforceable under the status quo.

The Oregon Supreme Court has now ruled on this issue supporting the Secretary's position in a decision handed down on October 4th. I can only presume that this was after the voters' pamphlet blurbs were submitted. The Court opinion points out that the very text of measure 47 admits that it is lifeless without a change to the text or interpretation of the Oregon constitution (let alone the implications of the US Supreme Court Citizens United ruling).

Kate Brown's predecessor Bill Bradbury was advised by the Oregon Department of Justice that attempting to enforce measure 47 would be fruitless. And indeed it would have been: it would have brought doomed cases before the court and disrupted electoral fundraising. No doubt that Secretary Brown would be facing the converse complaints if she did attempt to enforce the law: "she's wasting judicial resources and stifling free speech!"

Measure 47 was doomed by the fickle nature of the Oregon electorate, not by a conspiracy between the Secretary of State and Attorney General. Supporters of campaign finance reform need to find a new avenue besides blaming the incumbent.

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Category: politics Tags: Oregon

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