Polluted by Money: Oregon, and Portland too

“How corporate cash corrupted one of the greenest states in America.”

This four-part series in The Oregonian explores how money pollutes Oregon politics.

“Oregon is one of 11 states that allow people to give as much as they want to political candidates.”

“One of 7 that also allow corporations to give money.”

“One of 5 with no limits at all.”

“Oregon is the nation’s 27th largest state by population.”

“It ranks 6th for total corporate money given to the average lawmaker.”

“Per capita, when it comes to corporate giving, Oregon ranks No. 1.”

The series focuses on Oregon’s lamentable environmental record in the last few decades, and traces how industry money corrupted our state’s politics.

“Oregon’s failure to regulate campaign cash has made it one of the biggest money states in American politics. The flood of money created an easy regulatory climate where industry gets what it wants, again and again.”

“Oregon has been extremely deferential to industry and bends over backwards if they have any complaints”

“They would say, ‘We would really like your support,’ and then hand you a check”

One of the biggest industries in Oregon is the real estate industry. Developers, investors, builders, realtors. You might expect that the real estate industry is just as good at corrupting Oregon’s, and Portland’s, politics as other industries.

Take Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, for example. You can look up the political contributions to “Friends of Ted Wheeler” at the Oregon Secretary of State’s website. Let’s look at the mayor’s contributions and identify those from the real estate industry. We’ll look for “real estate”, “development”, “contractor” or similar terms in the “Occupation” column. We’ll also look for companies clearly in the real estate industry, like “Urban Development Partners” or “Melvin Mark Properties” or “Holland Government Affairs”. We’ll also look up other companies to determine the nature of their business: for example, frequent contributor “Shiels Obletz Johnsen” turns out to be a real estate development project manager (“Over the last 30 years, our offices in Portland and Seattle have successfully guided numerous public and private development projects from concept through construction”).

Total these up and we find:

In 2016, when Ted Wheeler was running for mayor, he received at least 19% of his total contributions from the real estate industry. He raised $738,000 that year.

In 2017, Ted Wheeler’s first year as mayor, he received at least 33% of his total contributions from the real estate industry. He didn’t raise much that year, though.

In 2018, Mayor Wheeler received at least 39% of his total contributions from the real estate industry. He raised $157,000 even though he wasn’t running for anything.

By the way, we haven’t included contributions from large corporations that may have development plans on their own properties (Nike, Schnitzer Steel, etc). We haven’t included lawyers who represent real estate developers. We haven’t tried to track down the occupation or employer for the many individual contributors (some very large) who failed to disclose this information. That’s why above we say “at least”.

In this blog, we often say “follow the money”. In Portland, real estate industry money leads straight to the Mayor.

Where else does it lead? Stay tuned for future articles.