An attorney generals opinion earlier this year cleared the way for Oregon lawmakers to solicit and accept campaign contributions while the legislature is in session, ending a ban that had been in place since 1974.
Attorney General Hardy Myers found that, in light of past court decisions, the ban impinged upon the freedom of expression protected by the Constitution.
In lieu of a legal restriction, the League of Women Voters of Oregon, Common Cause of Oregon and the Money in Politics Research Action Project have sought lawmakers signatures on a pledge title Not While Doing the Peoples Business.
Signers agree not to raise funds during the session.
Elected officials are in Salem to do the peoples business, the pledge reads. Campaigning and collection of campaign contributions do not belong in the state Capitol during the legislative session. The legislative process must be open and accessible to all and occur without the influence of money.
Nearly two-thirds of state lawmakers have signed the pledge. Notably absent, however, are lawmakers from east of the Cascades, our own Senator Ted Ferrioli and Rep. Greg Smith included.
Sen. David Nelson, R-Pendleton, is the only lawmaker from Northeastern Oregon to sign the pledge.
In his defense, Ferrioli cited other pledges he had declined to sign and was critical of the pledge concept.
I didnt sign the pledge for Taxpayers United and I didnt sign the no fund-raising during session pledge for the same reason: These are gimmicks intended to get publicity for interest groups, he said.
Rep. Ben Westlund, R-Tumalo, defended the non-signers.
There isnt one legislator in this building who is going to take contributions during the seession, he said. It seems to me that this is a solution in search of a problem.
Perhaps. But in a political day and age where the citizens who fuel campaign finance reform efforts view the current system as thinly-veiled bribery, it would behoove lawmakers to make every effort to reassure voters that money or the promise of money wont enter into decision making at the Capitol during session.
Certainly, Ferrioli and Smith are free not to sign this pledge.
And voters are free to hold them to the same high standard as if they had.
That means no solicit or accepting campaign funds during the session.
Because if it cant be the law in Oregon, then for the sake of our public trust in lawmakers it must at the very least be the spirit.