National political group is ready to raise big money for House speaker's run for governor

PMG FILE PHOTO - House Speaker Tina Kotek was endorsed Dec. 10 by EMILY'S List, a national organization that raises money for women candidates.A group that gave Gov. Kate Brown $800,000 in her 2018 re-election bid has endorsed House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, for governor in 2022.

EMILY's List, a Washington, D.C., organization that advocates for progressive women candidates, said early Friday, Dec. 10, that Kotek was their candidate to succeed Brown as the next governor.

"Tina Kotek is a proven fighter for opportunity and justice," Laphonza Butler, EMILY's List president wrote in statement announcing the endorsement.

EMILY's List is a acronym for "Early Money Is Like Yeast," comparing initial fundraising to yeast that makes dough rise. The organization was formed in 1985 to prime the pump of campaign donations for female candidates running for local, state and federal office. The founders believe women were at a disadvantage in drawing crucial early donations that can motivate other donors to give.

EMILY's List has grown to 5 million members and raised $700 million for successful campaigns by 1,500 officeholders across the nation. Their list of victories include Vice President Kamala Harris, 16 governors, 26 U.S. senators and 159 U.S. House members.

The endorsement cited what the group said was Kotek's support for affordable housing and health care, raising the minimum wage, ensuring pay and benefit equity, and championing a reduction in carbon emissions that cause global warming.

Maya Krishna-Rogers, the communications director for EMILY's List campaign efforts, said the group does not disclose what it plans to spend on any given race.

ocbEMILY's List was one of the largest backers of Brown's 2018 race against the Republican nominee, former state Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend. A campaign wallet war raged, with Buehler receiving $2.5 million from Nike founder Phil Knight. Brown was able to match the pace in part through repeated refilling of her coffers by EMILY's List, which had given $800,000 by the November election.

Together they raised nearly $40 million for the race, which some political websites in late October rated as "too close to call" despite voters having last elected a Republican governor in 1982. Brown won 50.1% of the vote, while Buehler received 43.7% and the remainder went to minor party candidates.

The endorsement of Kotek noted she would be the nation's first openly lesbian governor and a force for progressive policies in Salem. "Oregon will reckon with the legacies of injustice, move past the politics of division, and become a better place for families to work and live," according to the EMILY's List endorsement.

Campaign contributions

Kotek was cast as one of the "left-wing liberal" candidates running against "right-wing Trump apologist" Republicans by Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, when she announced last month that she was planning to run as an independent in 2022.

Buehler endorsed Johnson Dec. 7, saying she was the only alternative that could break the streak of Democratic victories made easier by the rightward tilt of the Republican Party that was out-of-step with the moderate majority of Oregon voters. "It is vital that we break the iron grip monopoly of the radical left on power, politics, and policy in our state," Buehler said of Johnson.

Democrats and Republicans will slug it out in likely intense and expensive campaigning to win their party's May 17 primaries. Johnson could sit on her cache of cash until summer, when she would turn in more than 24,000 valid signatures to Secretary of State Shemia Fagan. If certified, Johnson would go straight on the November ballot.

Kotek was the first prominent Democrat in the race for governor when she announced her candidacy just before Labor Day. Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla and 2018 Independent Party governor nominee Patrick Starnes (who endorsed Brown late in the 2018 race) were the best-known names among earlier entrants.

State Treasurer Tobias Read announced in late September that he would run for governor. An infusion of celebrity givers and contributions from billionaires accompanied the entry in late October of former New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who now lives in Yamhill County.

While Kotek has reaped the largest share of endorsements from progressive activist groups, labor unions and state lawmakers, her campaign has lagged in early fundraising. As of Dec. 7, Kotek had raised $512,000, which included money rolled over from her House campaign account. Read has raised $661,000 and Kristof brought in $1.7 million. Johnson, who will not have to expend resources to be competitive in the primary, has topped $2.3 million in the bank.

Kotek trails some Republicans in campaign contributions. Bud Pierce, the 2016 GOP nominee for governor in a special election, has $767,000, with about half coming from his own pocket. Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam has taken in $575,000 and longtime GOP consultant Bridget Barton of Portland is close to Kotek's total with $491,000 in contributions.

Statewide contributions

State campaign finance records show EMILY's List has made 88 contributions to candidates in Oregon since 2008. Besides Brown's 2018 race for governor, the group backed her successful 2008 and 2012 election as secretary of state.

EMILY's List gave $180,000 to Val Hoyle's unsuccessful 2016 Democratic primary for secretary of state. Hoyle was elected Labor Commissioner in 2018 and recently announced she would forego a re-election bid to run for the new 6th Congressional District seat.

EMILY's List also gave over $100,000 to the successful 2020 campaign of Fagan for secretary of state. Most contributions have been under $5,000 to winning and losing candidates for the Legislature.

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