by Andrew Rauch
Oregon’s state motto is “She flies with her own wings.” For Democratic Attorney General Candidate Ellen Rosenblum, this motto should read “She flies with her own wings and local money.” Rosenblum’s campaign had a distinctly local flavor to it. She went to school at the University of Oregon, practiced law in Eugene, and she most recently served on the Oregon Court of Appeals. Highlighting these local ties, Rosenblum was able to paint herself as the Oregon candidate. This left her opponent, Dwight Holton, who worked at the United States Attorney’s office in Oregon, to fill the role of the outsider.
The results of Oregon’s May 15th primary were nothing spectacular. There were some close races, and there were some not so close races. The primary for attorney general was one of those not so close races. Rosenblum defeated Holton by nearly 30%. The Oregon candidate won the election with ease. However, this result was a little bit of a surprise. Holton worked hard to cast aside the “outsider” label that Rosenblum had slapped on him by showcasing the work he did for Oregonians in the US Attorney’s office. He fought against online child predators, took on illegal firearms, and went after companies who violated environmental regulations. Holton also garnered more support from sheriffs and district attorneys than Rosenblum did. He received endorsements from the Oregonian, Oregon’s major newspaper, the Salem Statesmen Journal, the Eugene Register Guard, and many other newspapers. John Kroger, the man that either Holton or Rosenblum would be replacing as the state’s attorney general, also endorsed Holton. All of these endorsements served to paint Holton as an Oregonian, but the substantial lead in campaign donations he built may have made that quest impossible.
In March, Holton’s campaign held almost $130,000 more than Rosenblum’s campaign. Roughly 60% of his funding came from out of state, meaning that about $251,000 of his $419,000 was donated by people not living in Oregon. Rosenblum by contrast received 72% of her money from Oregonians. Holton’s father, Abner Linwood Holton, was the Governor of Virginia, and his ties to outsiders were more detrimental than the extra money it got him.
In the post-Citizens United world, campaign finance has become a focal point for elections across the nation. Money can buy airtime and other advertisements, but most states have restrictions on how much individuals can donate. Oregon, however, is one of the four states that has absolutely no restrictions on how much an individual can donate. This setup favors individuals who can attract supporters with deep pockets like Dwight Holton did, and since there are no restrictions on where the money comes from, Holton can dig into pockets all across the nation. However, as the Oregon AG primary illustrated, lots of money does not always mean lots of votes.
Money can only account for so much. At some point being able to relate to the populace is more important when it comes to getting elected. In Oregon, there was no question that both candidates were qualified, and that they both cared about the community. However, Dwight Holton was unable to transform his dollars into votes, and in the newly altered landscape of election finance, it is important to remember that the people get to choose the candidate that is right for them.