Courts millionaire decision means more bling for 5th District race
- Steve Law
- Portland Tribune - News
GOP candidate Mike Erickson could benefit from Supreme Court campaign contribution ruling
Republican Mike Erickson's beleaguered congressional campaign got a lift recently when the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out the 'Millionaire's Amendment.'
The 5-4 court decision means Erickson's Democratic opponent, Kurt Schrader, must stick to regular campaign contribution limits in the race for Oregon's 5th Congressional District, even if Erickson dips into personal savings again to finance his campaign.
The amendment, part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform of 2002, granted a leg-up to congressional candidates facing wealthy, self-funded candidates like Erickson. Challengers could collect three times the regular $2,300 contribution limit for individuals, or $6,900. Perhaps more importantly, they qualified for unlimited funds from their political party. The amendment was triggered when one candidate spent at least $350,000 more from personal funds than their opponent spent.
Still some disadvantages
Erickson, a transportation services entrepreneur from Lake Oswego, spent $1.6 million of his own money in a losing 2006 bid against incumbent U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley, a West Linn Democrat. That triggered the Millionaire's Amendment, enabling Hooley to tap more money from many of her donors in the general election.
Erickson triggered the Millionaire's Amendment again in his 2008 GOP primary win over Salem attorney Kevin Mannix, when Erickson loaned his campaign another $1.6 million.
The Supreme Court justices ruled that the provision violates constitutional free-speech protections. In effect, that gives more financial clout to millionaire candidates with vast fortunes to tap in their races.
'It certainly changes how we go about fundraising,' said Paul Gage, Schrader's campaign manager. 'It would have allowed us to go back to some of our previous contributors to get additional money to the campaign.'
Erickson's chief campaign consultant did not return calls, and his campaign manager could not be reached.
Amy Langdon, Mannix's campaign manager, said the Millionaire's Amendment provided only limited help in the primary. Candidates facing rivals with deep pockets still have a major disadvantage, she said.
Langdon doubted the court decision would play a pivotal role in the general election.
'I think it's worth noting, but I don't think it's a game-changer,' she said.
If the race is close, she said, national party organizations could assure that large sums are directed to both sides.
Schrader, a Canby veterinarian, spent $130,000 of his own money in the Democratic primary. He inherited a substantial amount of money from his family, but has said he has no intention of self-funding his campaign like Erickson.
Abortion issue haunts
The 5th Congressional District stretches from Southwest Portland to Corvallis and includes most of Clackamas County and all of Marion and Polk counties, as well as Tillamook and Lincoln counties on the coast.
Democrats and Republicans have about equal numbers of registered voters in the district, making it potentially one of the most competitive congressional races in the country.
After Hooley backed out of seeking re-election, the 5th District ranked among the top 10 congressional races this cycle. But then Erickson was rocked by allegations that he impregnated his former girlfriend and paid for her abortion, while touting his 'pro-life' position and gaining the endorsement of Oregon Right to Life.
Erickson now acknowledges that he drove the woman to a doctor's appointment and gave her some money for the visit, but denies knowingly paying for an abortion.
He dropped her off at the Bours Health Center, a Lloyd District abortion clinic. The woman has since produced documentation from the clinic that she had an abortion.
Erickson beat the better-known but under-financed Mannix in the primary, but emerged bruised. Key GOP forces, including Oregon Right to Life, U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Pendleton, and Mannix - former state party chairman -say they won't support him in the race.