Tax foes collect $610,000 for measure

Tapping a broad range of in-state donors, critics of the state Legislature’s $1.2 billion tax increase raised $610,000 to gather signatures and put the measure on the Feb. 3 ballot.

Campaign-finance reports filed Wednesday show that anti-tax forces collected more than 1,400 small donations of $50 or more.

Campaign leader Russ Walker said he also collected several checks of more than $50,000 from wealthy business owners.

Tax supporters had said his campaign was being dominated by out-of-state money, but all the cash came from inside Oregon, said Walker, leader of the Oregon chapter of Citizens for a Sound Economy.

“For some reason, the unions want everyone to believe that we just appeared yesterday and walked in here with a ton of cash,” he said. “We’ve worked hard to develop a base of contributors and members.”

The substantial money raised suggests that anti-tax forces will mount a formidable campaign to defeat the tax increase Feb. 3.

“It’s certainly a lot of money for just qualifying an initiative,” said Richard Ellis, a Willamette University political science professor who closely follows the initiative system.

Proponents collected more than twice the number of required petition signatures, he said.

“They either misestimated, or they were trying to send a message about their political clout,” he said.

Supporters of the tax increase had feared that Washington, D.C.-based Citizens for a Sound Economy would use its multimillion-dollar budget to put the measure on the ballot. But that hasn’t occurred.

“We thought more money was going to come in from outside,” said Dean Braa, a Western Oregon University sociology professor who supports the tax increase. But the list of big conservative donors was not surprising, he said.

Walker’s filing showed that the bulk of his money was filtered through his group’s political action committee. He isn’t required to name those donors until a Dec. 29 filing. However, Walker divulged his larger donors.

Owners of four private companies who have donated heavily to past conservative causes gave $55,100 apiece, he said. Those are Klamath Falls-based Jeld-Wen Inc., led by Dick Wendt; Seneca Sawmills in Eugene, headed by Aaron Jones; Aurora-based Columbia Helicopters, owned by Wes Lematta, and A-Dec Inc., a Newberg dental-equipment company led by Joan Austin. Freres Lumber Co. of Lyons donated $27,555, Walker said.

“These are Oregon home-grown businesses that represent pretty much every sector of our economy,” Walker said.

His campaign hired a California firm to gather signatures. But most of the campaign’s money went to a massive effort to reach voters and volunteer signature-gatherers via the mail.

Walker’s group cast such a wide net that even Braa, a leader of the American Federation of Teachers at WOU, received the literature.

“They sent me petitions and prepaid mailers,” he said, “and the same for other people at Western and other places that have never been their friends.”

New signature-gathering rules upped the cost of that phase of the campaign, Walker said. Campaigns now must pay professional signature-gatherers by the hour, not by the signature.

Elections officials also ruled that each signature sheet had to be signed on the date shown. That meant that volunteers had to use separate sheets if they gathered names from family and friends on more than one day, Walker said.

Early polls show that tax supporters have only 25 percent support. That is a huge hurdle to overcome in only two months.

“So far the discussion has pretty much been, ‘Do you want to pay more taxes or not?’” said Kris Kain, president of the Oregon Education Association, the statewide teachers union. Supporters of the increase and the services that it preserves have to turn the debate around, she said.

Who contributed

Contributions to the Measure 30 referendum campaign to overturn the $1.2 billion tax increase, including cash and in-kind donations.

Largest donor

Oregon Citizens for a Sound Economy PAC: $337,608

Included in that amount: A-Dec Inc., $55,100; Columbia Helicopters, $55,100; Jeld-Wen Inc., $55,100; Seneca Sawmill Co., $55,100; Freres Lumber Co., $27,555.

Other itemized donations

# Taxpayer Association of Oregon (led by Don McIntire): $68,522

# Goli Ameri for Congress: $54,000

# Kevin Mannix’s law firm: $40,585 (for legal work)

# Contributions of $50 or less: $28,283 (from 1,464 donors)

# Citizens for a Sound Economy in Washington, D.C.: $24,819

# Oregon Family Council: $7,910

# Oregon Republican Party: $7,000

# Rep. Linda Flores, R-Clackamas: $5,500

# Rep. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg: $5,500

# Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point $5,500

# National Federation of Independent Business, Oregon: $5,500

# ABC State PAC: $5,000

Steve Law can be reached at (503) 399-6615.

Copyright 2003 Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon