HERMISTON — It may pale in comparison to the money raised for statewide or federal campaigns, but candidates in local school board elections are raising cash to get their name out ahead of the Tuesday, May 18, election.
Given that most school boards races were uncompetitive in past years, even first-time candidates would often forgo fundraising on their way to certain victory. While many candidates are still choosing to run low or no-cost campaigns, a few candidates are collecting thousands of dollars to secure a seat on a board.
In Hermiston, Position 4 incumbent Brent Pitney is slightly outraising his challenger, attorney Sally Anderson Hansell, as of Friday, May 14.
According to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, more than 90% of Pitney’s campaign contributions have come from two sources: Knerr Construction, his employer, and Goller Health Insurance Agency, a Hermiston business owned by Hermiston School Board Chair Josh Goller.
Appointed to the board in 2018, Pitney said this was his first time running a campaign and he was glad to have financial support to do it.
“I quickly realized that campaigning isn’t cheap,” he said.
Pitney has reported spending only $820 so far, directing his money toward the purchase of campaign signs and banners. Additionally, Pitney said he’s spent money on radio ads.
The $2,610 in contributions to Hansell’s campaign is more diffuse, her campaign lists several donors who have given her $100 or less.
Hansell said she started her campaign account because of the outpouring of support she received from friends and community members after filing to run for Position 4. With supporters asking how they could contribute, she opened the account.
Hansell has also attracted contributions from the politically connected Bounds family, whose roots are in Hermiston.
Tucker Bounds, a communications director for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, and Hillary Bounds, the deputy general counsel of a company associated with billionaire Bill Gates, both contributed $500 each. Hansell said Bounds’ mother, Karen Bounds, is a retired Hermiston educator and the whole family is friends with her family.
Other named donors include Michael Mehren of Hermiston and Rebecca Nickels of Portland.
Hansell has also spent sparingly, reporting only $820 in expenditures as of May 14. She said she’s spent money on mailers and campaign material for voters.
Although her opponent, Caitlin Melhorn, is no longer campaigning, Position 6 incumbent Karen Sherman still has an active campaign account. Sherman’s sole contribution is $1,500 from her husband, Ric Sherman, and she hasn’t reported spending any money.
Sherman said she started the account under the impression that she had an active opponent, and even spent some money that hasn’t been posted to her account yet. But although Melhorn’s name is still on the ballot, she’s indicated that her time commitments conflicted with her campaign, causing her to stop seeking the seat.
“It’s kind of confusing,” Sherman said.
Although fundraising for school board campaigns is relatively novel in the region, school boards across the state continue to see money pour into their races as unions, special interest groups and deep-pocketed donors get involved.
According to The Oregonian, a candidate for Portland School Board has raised nearly $46,000, while The Bulletin has reported that two donors alone, an individual and a political action committee, have contributed $70,000 to races for the Bend-La Pine School Board.
In 2019, the Salem Reporter documented that candidates for the Salem-Keizer School Board collectively spent more than $150,000 on their campaigns, a figure that didn’t include independent spending from political groups.
Local campaign spending isn’t likely to match those heights in Eastern Oregon, but it does represent a new level of effort to obtain political office.
Briana Spencer, who is running for Position 7 on the Pendleton School Board against attorney Patrick Gregg, is the only other school board candidate in Umatilla County with a campaign account.
Spencer has reported no contributions or expenditures, but she said that’s because she hasn’t hit the state’s $750 threshold to begin publicly disclosing her campaign finances.
She said she started her campaign account because it was a requirement for her to obtain some of her organizational endorsements, which include the Oregon chapters of Stand For Children, an education advocacy organization, and NARAL Pro-Choice, a pro-abortion group.
Spencer anticipates that her campaign will eventually exceed $750 and she’ll begin disclosing her expenditures and donors. She said she’s spent money on campaign signs in addition to advertising in print and social media.