"The Oregon Committee"

Carla Axtman

My personal observation post for the current Oregon Legislative Session isn't in Salem, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your disposition toward the legislature). So my tracking system, such as it is, is fairly limited. I've relied on audio of committee and floor sessions, T.A.'s reports and newspaper coverage. Recently, I've taken notice of a group called "The Oregon Committee", a rather mysterious group of business lobbyists.

The first time I noticed "The Oregon Committee" was in this November piece in the Oregonian by Michelle Cole:

Angry after the 2009 Legislature increased taxes on corporations and high-income households, several Oregon business leaders met in a conference room across the street from the Capitol to talk about how they could rein in the Democrats' legislative supermajorities.

Calling themselves "the Oregon Committee," the group targeted House and Senate seats where they could either protect a friendly lawmaker or knock off an incumbent who supported the tax hikes. They anted up $3 million to give to candidates in a dozen races.

They won all but one.

Okay..so a bunch of business lobbyists got together and gave a crap ton of money to GOP candidates because they were pissed off about Measure 66 and 67--and in an off-year election where Dem turnout was significantly depressed, they won seats. Apparently we're all supposed to be impressed.

Recently, uber-tobacco lobbyist Mark Nelson, Jim Craven, and business lobbyist Tom Gallagher testified before the House General Government and Consumer Protection Committee against House Bill 2825. The bill, sponsored by Democrat Phil Barnhart and Republican Kim Thatcher, would require that tax expenditures (tax credits and tax breaks for corporations and other entities) be reported on the state's transparency website. During testimony, Nelson invoked the "Oregon Committee"(around the 38 min mark). Apparently legislators are supposed to shake in their shoes over the fact that these guys and their cadre don't want Oregonians to know how much revenue is being given away to "The Oregon Committee's" benefactors while the Oregon budget is being slashed.

Not so much on the whole transparency thing for "The Oregon Committee", whoever they are.

Then again last week, "The Oregon Committee" made it into another of Michelle Cole's articles:

"The Oregon Committee," a coalition of business groups, dashed off a memo to legislators: "Our new understanding that bonus depreciation and Section 179 small business provisions do not automatically reconnect to the federal tax code in 2011 has created a potentially serious rift in the positive environment of the 2011 legislative session."

House Republicans quickly drafted an amendment that would satisfy the business concerns. It failed in the House Revenue Committee Thursday on a partisan, 4-4 vote. Instead, Republicans will attempt to pass their language on the floor as a minority report.

Shorter Cole: The GOP are the lapdogs of "The Oregon Committee".

This is all I've seen on "The Oregon Committee" in the news, which seems odd given how quick they are to yank the Republicans' leash. Especially with the nasty little triumverate of Nelson, Gallagher and Craven in this hydra, seems like our news media might want to be paying a little closer attention.

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    First of all, I'm stunned to discover that I'm on the same side of an issue as Kim Thatcher. Good on her for HB 2825. (Phil, too! But that's less of a surprise.)

    Second, they're opposed to transparency? Yeesh. I can appreciate that self-interested folks wouldn't want their tax loopholes closed, but to oppose even the public disclosure of the value of those loopholes, well, that's some seriously craven behavior.

    I'm quite certain that a high-priced lobbyist like Mark Nelson could marshal some serious and high-minded arguments in favor of those tax loopholes. He should relish the opportunity to defend 'em vigorously in the public sphere - rather than hiding in the dark and relying on obscurity as a defense.

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      Some 18 hours later, I realized that there was an unintentional pun hidden in my comment that might be perceived as containing a secret meaning.

      But no, definitely no pun intended.

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    The Oregon Committee aka The Anti-Oregon Committee.

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    The following question doesn't reflect my support/opposition to the bill:

    Are INDIVIDUAL tax credit/breaks posted on the website?

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      Currently nothing is on the website, and the bill is targeted at economic development tax incentives (enterprise zones, SIP, OIA, manufacturing and renewable parts of the BETC, the film credit).

      Is it possible some individuals' names will be posted if this bill passes? yes, but very few.

      However, if you go to the Department of Energy's site, you can see ALL the BETC recipients (including conservation credits) now. http://www.oregon.gov/ENERGY/publications.shtml

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    @Michael -

    Currently, no information is available as to the beneficiaries of any tax expenditures/subsidies.

    The Barnhart-Thatcher bill would make public the beneficiaries of economic development tax incentives, a narrow, but hugely important, subset of tax expenditures.

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    By the way, this bill is going to have a possible second hearing and definitely a work session this Thursday at 8 AM if anyone wants to weigh in.

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    Just for the record, I know squat about "The Oregon Committee" but I have worked with Jim Craven and Tom Gallagher on this bill behind the scenes. We have all talked respectfully with each other and addressed each others concerns. While we are not likely to agree with each other on many issues, and I have no idea what to expect in the future, the process that has led to mutually acceptable amendments has been productive.

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    It's not true that tax incentives aren't public record. For example, all enterprise zone exemptions are signed and submitted with the local Assessor's office. Once that document is signed, it becomes public record.

    The Bulletin acquired facebook's ezone exemption application through a public records request in early 2010.

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      In defense of Alex, I think he was referring to it being available publicly online.

      Since these things ARE public record, and all direct spending by the state is online, this bill is basically saying "take the public records and post them online".

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    I'm still trying to imagine Mark Nelson, Tom Gallagher and Jim Craven as a "nasty little triumvirate."

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      Really? Doesn't seem so hard, especially when one associates with Nelson:


      I think you can imagine it just fine, Jack.

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        I know all three of those guys and I like all of them. Mark Nelson, specifically, is very different from the demonized image painted by people who don't like his politics or his clients.

        And, interestingly enough, Mark's politics are far more moderate than the popular image his critics have of him admits.

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    Want to know who The Oregon Committee is? Simple. Go to the Oregon Secretary of State, corporations division page, and YOU can be The Oregon Committee. Because No one has registered the name yet.

    So if you have a spare $50, you can be The Oregon Committee. The domain is also available, in case someone wants to throw up a site.

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