Legislators serving Malheur County are taking in thousands of dollars from political action committees while their challengers in the 2020 election rely almost entirely on modest donations from individuals, according to a review of state campaign spending data.

The power of incumbency clearly shows in the financial reports of state Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, and state Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane. Candidates must report their campaign finances to the state Elections Division.

Findley, appointed to the Senate and seeking election for the first time to the seat, has raised so much campaign cash that he has become a major donor to yet another political action committee. He has sent more than $70,000 to The Leadership Fund, the political arm of Senate Republicans trying to peel off enough wins to carve into Democratic control.

Campaign finance reporting showed that as of Saturday, Findley has raised $171,000. Carina Miller, the Democratic nominee from Warm Springs, has raised $38,000.

Not nearly as much cash is flowing in the House race. Owens logged $58,883 in contributions and chipped in another $10,364 from his own company. Beth Spell, the Democratic nominee from John Day, has raised $4,500 as of Saturday.

Miller and Spell said their campaign finances show their support comes from individuals while the incumbents rely on large donations from business interests through political action committees.

Miller said in an email that her reliance on such donors “shows that not only am I here to represent and fight for people and not corporations, but that individuals believe in what our campaign is about.”

She said that the Senate district “has suffered economically, in health care, with education and with our natural resources for a long time, and these financial relationships between corporate PACs and our representatives are why.”

Findley’s campaign finance reports show he has raised about $7,000 in small donations, dwarfed by more than $165,000 in large contributions from political action committees and business leaders.

“I’m relentless in my calls” to PACs to raise money, Findley said.

The state report showed Findley received $18,000 from the Oregon Realtors PAC, $12,000 from the Associated General Contractors’ PAC, and $10,000 from the PAC of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Findley also received $3,500 from the Tillamook Country Creamery Association, $3,000 from the PAC representing PERS retirees, the Oregon Business and Industry PAC, and the Oregon Forest Industries Council PAC.

His major donors in Malheur County include Riley Hill, an Ontario developer and the mayor, who gave $1,500; Dennis Buttice, a Vale lumber broker, who gave $1,000, and Dentinger Feed and Seed of Vale, which gave $500.

Findley also has received $5,000 from Ashgrove Cement, which operates a cement plant in Baker County, and $5,000 from Paramount Gold Nevada Corp., a Nevada company developing the Grassy Mountain gold mining complex west of Vale.

Findley is a former Vale city manager who was appointed to the House in 2018 and then appointed to the Senate earlier this year. He acknowledged his base of individual donors is small – but that has been intentional.

“There are tough times for people,” he said. “I’m not pushing hard.”

He said that in his 2018 campaign for state representative, he mailed 350 letters seeking donations – a step he’s not taking this campaign.

Findley said he has testified in favor of Ashgrove Cement and Paramount Gold in regulatory proceedings.

He said both are major employers in his district and that he would use any opportunity to support them. He said, for example, that he supported Paramount Gold because its promised jobs would be “a game changer for the economy in Malheur County.”

Findley said he hasn’t introduced legislation for organizations such as the Realtors or the beverage industry as a result of their campaign contributions. He said there was no understanding that contributions would mean he would help with particular legislation.

He said he has passed on campaign money to the Senate Republican caucus to be used to help in three races. He said he wants to help erode the Democrats’ supermajority in the Senate, where it holds 18 of 30 seats.

That supermajority allows Democrats to approve legislation without any Republican votes. Findley said he hopes the 2020 election will change that.

“Let the issues be the driver and not special interests,” Findley said.

Miller’s largest donation was $3,500 from the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund, representing the 18 Democratic senators, and she expects additional funding from that PAC. As of Saturday, she had spent about $8,000 and had another $30,000 remaining.

She said she expects to ramp up her campaigning in the closing days of the race with a phone bank and direct mail.

“We are taking on some more staff to finish strong in this last stretch,” she said.

In the House race, Owens has raised a larger share of his campaign money from individuals giving $100 or less. Campaign reports show about 20% of his money coming from such contributors.

Owens said he appreciates such “grass roots” money because “it shows the community feels I’m doing a good job” as a state representative.

He said he hasn’t tracked closely which political action committees have been giving to his campaign. He said he counts on lobbyists representing such interests for his legislative work.

“I need to rely on the lobby to bring me facts and educate me,” Owens said. “It doesn’t matter what side of the issue they’re on.”

He said he tells PACs that his top priority for his sprawling district is to represent voters in a bipartisan matter.

Owens, a former Harney County commissioner, said he’s not been “comfortable asking for money for myself” but “I’ve gotten more proficient at it the last couple of weeks.”

Campaign finance reports show his biggest donor as of Saturday was the Oregon Realtors PAC, which gave $5,000. Owens said he has not introduced as legislation for the Realtors.

The finance reports show the Oregon PERS Retirees PAC gave $2,500 and the Oregon Beverage PAC gave $2,000.

Spell, a substitute teacher challenging Owens, said it was “significant” that her campaign has been funded by small donations. That is in contrast to Owens, she said.

“My campaign has been orchestrated through the work of many unpaid individuals and they have solicited the support of others,” she wrote in an email. “I have prioritized the needs of families and it appears he has more interest in meeting the needs of large businesses.”

Contact editor Les Zaitz by email: les@malheurenterprise.com.

CORRECTION: Dennis Buttice, a Vale lumber broker, gave $1,000 to Lynn Findley's campaign. An earlier version reported the wrong first name. The Enterprise apologizes for the error.

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