SALEM — A fund with ties to Oregon’s richest resident, the nation’s largest landowner and a recently retired congressman is fueling a surge in contributions for Republicans running for the Legislature.
Bring Balance to Salem PAC has raised more than $3.31 million since its creation in November 2021. The group’s goal is to reduce Democratic influence in state politics.
The political newcomer to the campaign finance scene is playing a significant role as the Nov. 8 election looms closer.
As of Tuesday, Sept. 20, it’s 58 days until Nov. 8 — though ballots go out in the mail to voters much sooner, with the initial batches sent to in state residents on Oct. 19.
The biggest political money splash this week was a $240,000 contribution to Evergreen Oregon PAC, the fundraising arm of House Republicans. The source: Bring Balance to Salem PAC.
Until May, the Salem PAC almost exclusively took in contributions. Nike founder Phil Knight, the richest Oregonian, gave $1 million. Timber and construction groups have given contributions of $50,000 to $250,000 each to the PAC. Red Emmerson, the nation’s largest private landholder, contributed $250,000 from his Redding, California-based timberlands and forest products company, Sierra Pacific Industries.
The Salem PAC raised more than $880,000 while its spending prior to the May 17 primary was primarily a $5,000 monthly fee to Walden Consulting, a Hood River firm run by former U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, and his wife, Mylene Simons-Walden.
Since the primary, the PAC has actively spent on political races. It’s contributed $364,111 to candidates and has more than $2.9 million in the bank.
The PAC’s idea of bringing balance to the state capital has, so far, meant money for Republicans. That’s despite some of it’s biggest donors backing former state Sen. Betsy Johnson’s unaffiliated campaign over former House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, the GOP governor nominee. Former House Speaker Tina Kotek is the Democratic Party candidate for governor.
Knight has given $1.75 million to Johnson, and Emmerson has given $200,000.
As of Sept. 20, Bring Balance to Salem PAC has stayed out of the race at the top of the ballot. It’s giving to Republican PACs, leaders and individual candidates.
The Leadership Fund, which gives money to Republican candidates for the Oregon Senate, has received $50,000.
Evergreen Oregon PAC, the political arm of House Republicans, has received a total of $290,000 as of this week.
The campaign funds of Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, and House Minority Leader Vikki Breese Iverson, R-Prineville, have each received $25,000. Evergreen Oregon PAC is handled by Bryan Iverson, the Prineville consultant married to the House GOP leader.
The contribution to Evergreen Oregon PAC last week was a timely transfusion for the Republicans’ legislative efforts in the dwindling days of the campaign. Adding the new money, the House GOP has now raised $1.06 million and spent $360,145. It has $769,990 in the bank.
There’s no Democratic equivalent to the double-barreled funding shot from the state GOP-affiliated PACs and the Bring Balance to Salem PAC .
The Democrats’ own PAC has fewer dollars and as the majority, more candidates to help.
Future PAC House Builders, the political arm of House Democrats, has raised $1.5 million and spent $500,000 in 2022. With money rolled over from last year, it has a total of $1.01 million in the bank to spend.
The statewide funding issue is showing up in some key races Democrats had targeted for November 2022.
Democrats had flipped a Republican seat in Bend in 2020 when Rep. Jason Kropf, D-Bend, defeated then-Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend in House District 54. The seat had been held by Republicans for a decade despite an ever-growing Democratic voter registration.
Growth in Deschutes County during the past decade required a major realignment of legislative districts for the 2022 election.
The new maps drawn by the Democratic majority in the Legislature created a strongly Democratic-leaning House District 54. Kropf has raised little money, instead sending more than $30,000 in his fund that rolled over from the 2020 election as a contribution to Future PAC House Builders
The new version of House District 53 converted a perennial Republican seat to one with a Democratic edge. While once encircling Bend, the population shift halved the district area, which now includes northern Bend, parts of Redmond and other areas of northern Deschutes County. Incumbent Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, opted not to seek reelection.
Following redistricting, Democrats said flipping House District 53 was a key part of their strategy to hold or even expand on their statewide 14-seat majority.
But with less than a month before ballots go out to voters, the fundraising difference between the two House District 53 candidates has grown larger by the week.
Emerson Levy, the Democrat, has raised just under $55,000 in 2022. The Bend attorney has received $8,600 from Future PAC House Leaders — the Democrats’ main fund for House races.
Republican Michael Sipe has raised more than $292,000. Other than a $50,000 loan from the company he owns, Cross Pointe, his largest single contribution has been $17,000 from Evergreen Oregon PAC. He’s also received $5,000 directly from Bring Balance to Salem PAC.
Andrew Rogers, communications director for Future PAC House Builders declined to discuss any strategy to get more funds to Levy.
But Rogers pointed to the new political mix in House District 53. House districts are up for election every two years.
“I will say that that seat is almost a 3% Democratic edge and will be held by a Democrat sooner rather than later,” Rogers said.