By Adam Andrzejewski
As the state contemplates an income tax hike, Oregon’s elites line their pockets with taxpayer money.
In 2016, as politicians across America were fleeing voter wrath, Oregon’s governor and attorney general were blazing an unlikely trail – accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from businesses with state contracts.
Since 1940, at the federal level, individuals and entities negotiating or working under federal contracts are prohibited
from giving political cash to candidates, parties or committees. In Oregon, however, this political patronage
is perfectly legal, at least for now.
Our analysis at American Transparency (OpenTheBooks.com) found 207 state contractors gave $805,876 in campaign cash to Governor Kate Brown ($518,203) and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum ($287,673) since 2012. These businesses hold lifetime state contracts worth at least $2.6 billion. State contractor donations to the governor and attorney general represent 57 percent of current cash on hand in their campaign committees.
We found the data by looking at a universe of companies or their affiliated employees funding Brown or Rosenblum’s campaigns since 2012. We then matched those company names with the contract database provided by the State of Oregon. It’s a trail of conflicts of interest paved with campaign cash and contractor payments.
We found 41 law firms holding state contracts with a lifetime value of nearly $50 million who gave political donations to Rosenblum ($196,093 in donations) and Brown ($89,958 in donations) since 2012. Oregon outsources legal work to these firms despite Rosenblum’s Department of Justice employing up to
1,228 staffers at an annual taxpayer cost of $74 million. Why put state employees to work when you can outsource it to potential donors? By comparison, the Attorneys General of Illinois and New York have 875 and 1,685 employees respectively.
State campaign disclosures show that firms themselves, or their affiliated partners, principals, and employees gave the following:
- Markowitz Herbold PC – $25,084 in campaign donations to the governor and AG. Separately, the firm received new and amended state contracts valued at $13 million from 2013-2015.
- Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP – $16,331 in campaign donations to the governor and AG. Separately, the firm held state contracts worth a lifetime value of $2.995 million.
- Stoll, Stoll, Berne, Lokting & Shalchter PC – $15,617 in campaign donations to the governor and AG. Separately, the firm held contracts worth a lifetime value of $2.71 million.
- Tonkon Torp LLP – $6,560 in campaign donations to the governor and AG. Separately, the firm held contracts worth a lifetime value of $2 million.
- Ball Janik LLP – $4,600 in campaign donations to the governor and AG. Separately, the firm held state contracts worth $1.11 million over their lifetime that were initiated, modified, or amended during 2011-2015.
Before publishing, we pressed the five law firms for confirmation, comment and context. While three responded, only Ball Janik confirmed
We also found major U.S. corporations who reaped Oregon state contracts worth millions of dollars in lifetime value while each business, or affiliated employees, gave campaign cash to the governor or AG since 2012. Some of these businesses include Alaskan Air (contracts worth $25 million); AT&T ($32.4 million); Hewlett Packard ($38.5 million); Microsoft ($15.6 million); Pitney Bowes ($9.8 million); Verizon ($57.2 million); FedEx ($82 million); CH2M Hill ($129.9 million); and PacificSource Health ($82.4 million).
A few more examples:
- Portland General Electric (PGE), a $1.9 billion annual revenue Fortune 1000 public utility distributing electricity to 44 percent of the Oregon population contributed $31,000 to Gov. Kate Brown and $7,000 to AG Rosenblum’s political committees since 2012. According to state disclosures, PGE held state contracts worth $254,258 in lifetime value.
- Pharmaceutical companies, Eli Lilly & Co. ($11,000) and Pfizer ($15,000) gave a total of $26,000 to Brown.
- Professional Credit Service has a state contract for debt collection with a lifetime value of $10 million. Joseph Hawes, CEO, gave $24,500 to Brown during a period when the firm’s contract was amended and extended.
Oregon is home to Native American groups who hold state contracts worth $36.7 million in lifetime value. These groups are also significant political donors with campaign donations of $140,000 since 2012. Brown received $123,000 while Rosenblum received $17,000.
Six Native American groups who contributed are Cow Creek Band of Umpqua ($85,000); Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde ($25,000); Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians ($11,500); Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation ($8,500); Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation ($6,000); and Confederated Tribes of Coquille ($4,000).
Even in Illinois, where the number one manufactured product is corruption, it is illegal for state vendors with contracts over $50,000 to give campaign donations to statewide office holders. The 2011 Illinois law barred this "pay to play" practice in which contractors give campaign donations to powerful statewide office holders.
At a time when Oregon is considering an income tax hike, elected officials should consider revamping public integrity laws to match the federal statute – or at least Illinois ethics. Voters might appreciate an effort to pioneer reform rather than blazing a trail of political patronage costing taxpayers millions.
Adam Andrzejewski (say: And-G-F-Ski) is the CEO of OpenTheBooks.com – the mission is to post ‘Every Dime, Online, In Real Time’ of all public spending at every level of Federal, State and Local government across America.
Upper-bound contractual payment limits are not actual billings or state payments. To the extent that the information contains government errors, our report will reproduce those errors. No quid pro quo or illegal activity by any elected official, company or individual referenced in this editorial is implied or intended. All state contract information referenced was produced via the Oregon Open Records law by the State of Oregon. Kate Brown was elected Oregon Secretary of State (top auditor) in 2008 and assumed to Governor in February 2015. Ellen Rosenblum was appointed Attorney General in June 2012 and twice won reelection.