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Legal experts and campaign finance watchdogs say this is a system that smacks of self-dealing, giving influential politicians a stable of moneyed and motivated campaign supporters while law firms get a shot at making millions.

CONTRIBUTED - State Treasurer Tobias ReadTobias Read has reason to feel good about his reelection chances this year.

Read, the Democratic Oregon state treasurer, faces opposition from a Republican whom he beat narrowly in 2016, in a Democrat-dominated state where voters will be primed to vote against President Donald Trump.

And then there are the checks.

To get out his campaign pitch, Read will have help in the form of tens of thousands of dollars from out-of-state law firms. As of early December, more than 40% of the money the treasurer reported raising in 2019 came from big-time firms headquartered in places like New York City, Washington, D.C., and Wilmington, Delaware.

That in itself is notable, but the donations come with a further wrinkle: Nearly all are being made by lawyers who seek work from the state of Oregon — work that Read's office can help provide. A 12-year-old state law gave firms a chance to make millions of dollars if they are picked to work one of the potentially lucrative lawsuits that Oregon files against powerful corporations.

The result is a torrent of outside money to state candidates, much of it solicited by Oregon treasurers and attorneys general — the same elected officials whose offices decide which firms get the work.

Oregon Public Broadcasting is a news partner of the Portland Tribune. You can find their story here.

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