27 Apr

In presidential politics, Oregon now just a ripple on the cash flow

The 2016 presidential campaign arrived in Portland last week – at least if you were a Republican with $1,250 to spend to say hello.

Invited to something at that price, most Portlanders might be less interested in what was being said than what was being served.

In the first appearance of a likely 2016 presidential candidate around here – some other areas have been seeing them since about 2011 – former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush brought his campaign here Tuesday. He attended a reception with tickets priced at $1,250, and then went on to a dinner priced at $12,500.
For that, you might really wonder what was being served.

The first 2016 candidate to appear in Portland did not, of course, say anything in public, or even to a reporter. One attendee did praise Bush’s private comments to Jeff Mapes of The Oregonian, explaining, “He sees the nuances and sees that these are hard issues.”

That’s got to be worth $12,500.

But if the first sign of 2016 in Portland didn’t put a candidate on public display, it did give us a clear vision of the campaign. With the encouragement of the Supreme Court and technology, this clash of red America and blue America is going to be all about green.
Especially around here, and in most other neighborhoods.
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The 2016 campaign looks so expensive there may not be enough money in circulation to pay for it. The Koch brothers have already declared their intention to spend $900 million on next year’s politics, and billionaires and even humble millionaires on all sides are loosening up their check-writing fingers.

Laying down a marker – and also giving out some – Jeb Bush reportedly aimed to raise $100 million by March 31, a year and a half before next November’s election. In 2008, the last year anybody took public funding and spending limits seriously, the Federal Elections Committee projected a $126 million limit for a candidate’s entire primary and general election campaign.

This time, some campaigns will spend that before we actually get to 2016.

As voters have noticed, candidates from both parties surf the tidal wave of money. Publicly funded, spending-limited campaigns became extinct in 2008, when Barack Obama realized how much more money he could raise on his own. Efforts to elect Hillary Clinton next year reportedly expect to go deep into the billion-dollar range, an amount unlikely to be raised in tens and twenties.

Pretty much all campaign funding limits, of course, were thrown out by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision. Independent expenditure Super-PACs can now collect unlimited amounts from donors, including corporations, and one generous billionaire can keep a presidential candidate afloat. Bush, in fact, was raising money in Portland not for his official campaign but for his super-PAC, Right to Rise – which the Associated Press reported last week will play the main role in his entire campaign.

By the rules, super PACs are required not to coordinate with candidates. It seems Bush can legally appear at his Super PAC’s money-raising events because he is not yet officially running.

And last week’s Portland contributors may have gotten off easy. A Wall Street fund-raising event for Bush in February carried a $100,000 price tag, and according to the International Business Times, a Miami breakfast with the candidate earlier this year had a $250,000 entry fee.

You wonder what was served there.

But when Bush continued on to New York after Portland for more fund-raising, he also included a public event at a school. Here, he just took the money and ran.

In the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney stopped here three times, all for closed fund-raising events. That year, President Obama visited Portland for one afternoon and two fundraising events, with one priced at $30,000 – although the other was at least open to the press.

In presidential campaigns, Oregon isn’t an electorate, we’re an ATM.

Admittedly, we’re a relatively small state, and have voted Democratic for president consistently since 1988. But we’re about the same size as South Carolina, which has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1988, and Iowa, which has varied only once in that time – and in both places, voters can’t go to the supermarket without being accosted by a presidential candidate explaining how his grandfather fueled his love of America.

Maybe we don’t want that, especially not during basketball season. Maybe in a race built on astounding amounts of money, you’d rather be a spot in the cash flow than on the campaign trail.

But some day in Portland, you’d like to see a presidential candidate at a food cart.

NOTE: This column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian, 4/26/15.