What's the price on serving the public?

T.A. Barnhart

What's the price on serving the public?

Kate Brown at Oregon National Guard MOB ceremony prior to Afghanistan deployment. May 2014.

Secretary of State Kate Brown was embarrassed (I hope) to have been caught signing a letter that was written for her by Comcast:

Portland and other opponents want the Federal Communications Commission to block the deal, or put strict conditions on it to protect subscribers.

Others, including Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown, are enthusiastic supporters.

On Monday, the online tech journal The Verge looked at some of the letters of support from Comcast's political supporters and found they were ghostwritten – sometimes word-for-word – by the company itself. That isn't particularly surprising: Politicians often write letters of support at the behest of their supporters, and legislators frequently propose bills written by lobbyists. OregonLive.com

I’m not sure why Brown signed this letter; despite the Oregonian quoting The Verge that Comcast has donated nearly $10,000 to her campaigns, she hasn’t received anything since May 2012. ($4,500 in 2008, $5,000 in 2011 & $2,000 in 2012). And this is Oregon: corporations donate to politicians on both sides of the aisle.

I took a look at Comcast’s donations to Oregon politicians to see where they were giving; to simplify, I only looked contributions since the 2013 short session ended. The grand total: $222,250 donated to Democrats, Republicans, “non-partisan” and even school bond campaigns.

One-quarter of a million dollars in less than two years to buy access to Oregon’s leading decision makers. And now at least one of those politicians is writing to the FCC to support Comcast’s merger with Time Warner. This is not cool.

I happen to think Kate Brown is an honorable person; I think it’s entirely probable she does support the merger for the reasons stated in the letter, whoever drafted it. Not every Democrat in the state supports the same things, after all; I have strong differences with labor, for example, on industrial issues that impact the environment. That’s life in a pluralist society.

However, the amount of money Comcast has poured into Oregon politics is troubling. I’ve included the full list of contributions below the fold; here are the biggest recipients:

FWIW, the total contributed by Comcast over the years is $630,000 (since their first donation, to Ryan Deckert, of $1,000 in October 2006).

Kitzhaber for Governor 16000 D
Committee for Safe and Successful Children 10000  
Future PAC, House Builders 10000 D
Kitzhaber 2010 10000 D
Promote Oregon Leadership PAC 10000 R
Senate Democratic Leadership Fund 10000 D
The Leadership Fund 10000 R
Friends of Tina Kotek 8000 D
Friends of Val Hoyle 6000 D
Peter Courtney for State Senate 6000 D
Friends of Mark Hass 5500 D
Friends of Tobias Read 5500 D
Rosenbaum for Senate (Diane) 5500 D
Friends of Ginny Burdick 5000 D
Friends of Jessica Vega Pederson 4500 D
Committee to Elect Mike McLane 4000 R
Friends of Jules 4000 D
Friends of Ted Ferrioli 4000 R
Bend Tourism, Arts, and Public Safety Initiative 3000  
Bruce Starr for State Senate Committee 3000 R
Friends of Lee Beyer 3000 D
John Davis For Oregon 3000 R
Friends of Chris Edwards 2500 D
Friends of Richard Devlin 2500 D
Friends of Vicki Berger 2500 R
Portlanders for Schools 2500  
Yes for Beaverton Schools 2500  
Elect Deborah Kafourey 2000 D
Elect Ellen Rosenblum for Attorney General 2000 D
Friends of Dan Rayfield 2000 D
Friends of Margaret Doherty 2000 D
Friends of Phil Barnhart 2000 D
Gomberg for State Rep 2000 D
Committee to Re-Elect Peter Buckley 1990 D

(Oddly, Rep Peter Buckley’s two contributions were both for $995. Someone explain that to me, please.)

Obviously, Comcast is seeking to buy favor with politicians. They are also seeking to buy favor with those involved in school issues in order to be able to sell services to schools and school districts. They’re spreading the money around – the campaign funds for both Ds and Rs in the House and Senate get $10,000 each; we don’t want anyone feeling slighted – but Dems are receiving more for the simple reason that Dems are in power.

This is the deleterious affect of money in politics: good people who look bad because they accept legal and politically necessary contributions from public corporations – and they look slimy as a result. Has Comcast bought influence with Speaker Kotek by donating $8,000 to her in the past two years? Or is she taking their money and laughing all the way to the bank knowing she’s not doing to lift a finger for them?

How the hell can we know? I do know what she and House Majority Leader Val Hoyle and Senate President Peter Courtney and AG Ellen Rosenblum and newly minted State Representative Dan Rayfield and all the rest would say: Of course not. We serve our constituents and the people of Oregon. No amount of money can buy our vote.

But here’s the thing: We don’t know that. We have to take them at their word, and we have to take their word in light of the money they are accepting and putting into the campaign accounts. If I call Speaker Kotek’s office with a complaint about Comcast and what poor service they are supplying to my community, will that have the same impact as when Comcast’s lobbyist (or lobbyists; I don’t know how many they hire, but I’m betting it’s more than one) sends in one of those notes during a floor session and asks to speak privately with her or another member of the House.

Money is not speech. Corporations are not people. But the money corporations spread around is as ugly and nasty as any thug hired by an old-time ward boss in the bad old days of strong-arm politics. At some point, the politicians who agree that money has an over-sized place in politics have to stand up and act on that belief. They need to start refusing the attempted bribes of Comcast and the other anti-public corporations who exist to squeeze as much profit out of their ill-served customers as possible.

And when the politicians put principle before money, I do believe, at least on the progressive side, we’ll step up and have their back. After all, that quarter-million spent by Comcast in Oregon the past two years is money taken from us, their customers.

Shouldn’t we have a say in what that money buys?

Here is the full table of Comcast contributions to Oregon pols since 3/2014.

Kitzhaber for Governor16,000D
Committee for Safe and Successful Children10,000
Future PAC, House Builders10,000D
Kitzhaber 201010,000D
Promote Oregon Leadership PAC10,000R
Senate Democratic Leadership Fund10,000D
The Leadership Fund10,000R
Friends of Tina Kotek8,000D
Friends of Val Hoyle6,000D
Peter Courtney for State Senate6,000D
Friends of Mark Hass5,500D
Friends of Tobias Read5,500D
Rosenbaum for Senate (Diane)5,500D
Friends of Ginny Burdick5,000D
Friends of Jessica Vega Pederson4,500D
Committee to Elect Mike McLane4,000R
Friends of Jules4,000D
Friends of Ted Ferrioli4,000R
Bend Tourism, Arts, and Public Safety Initiative3,000
Bruce Starr for State Senate Committee3,000R
Friends of Lee Beyer3,000D
John Davis For Oregon3,000R
Friends of Chris Edwards2,500D
Friends of Richard Devlin2,500D
Friends of Vicki Berger2,500R
Portlanders for Schools2,500
Yes for Beaverton Schools2,500
Elect Deborah Kafoury2,000D
Elect Ellen Rosenblum for Attorney General2,000D
Friends of Dan Rayfield2,000D
Friends of Margaret Doherty2,000D
Friends of Phil Barnhart2,000D
Gomberg for State Rep2,000D
Committee to Re-Elect Peter Buckley1,990D
Alan Olsen for Oregon Senate Committee1,500R
Cliff Bentz for State Representative Committee1,500R
Committee to Elect Betsy Johnson1,500D
Committee to Elect Shemia Fagan1,500D
Elect Betty Komp1,500D
Friends of Ann Lininger1,500D
Friends of Jennifer Williamson1,500D
Friends of Mark Johnson1,500R
Friends of Vic Gilliam1,500R
Tim Knopp for State Senate1,500R
Brad Witt for State Representative1,000D
Citizens for Jim Weidner1,000R
Citizens to Elect Carl Wilson1,000R
Committee to Elect Gene Whisnant1,000R
Committee to Elect Sal Esquivel1,000R
Committee to Re-Elect Greg Smith1,000R
Friends of Bill Kennemer1,000R
Friends of Chuck Riley1,000D
Friends of Duane Stark1,000R
Friends of Elizabeth Steiner Hayward1,000D
Friends of Greg Matthews1,000D
Friends of Herman Baertschiger1,000R
Friends of Jackie Winters1,000R
Friends of Kim Thatcher1,000R
Friends of Rob Nosse1,000D
Friends of Tom Hughes1,000
Kathleen Taylor for Oregon1,000D
Nick Fish for City Council1,000D
Oregonians for Clem1,000D
Sara Gelser for State Representative1,000D
Vote 4 Lou Ogden1,000R
Anna Peterson for Mayor500
Caddy McKeown for Representative500D
Citizens to Elect John Cook500
Committee to Elect John Lively for State Representative, Dist. 12500D
Friends of Alissa Keny-Guyer500D
Friends of Andy Olson500R
Friends of Brent Barton500D
Friends of Carla Piluso500D
Friends of Chris Gorsek500D
Friends of Chuck Thomsen500R
Friends of Dan Saltzman500
Friends of Janet Carlson500
Friends of Jim Bernard500R
Friends of Joe Gallegos500D
Friends of Joe Pishioneri500
Friends of Lew Frederick500D
Friends of Nancy Nathanson500D
Friends of Rod Monroe500D
Friends of Sherrie Sprenger500R
Paul Holvey for State Representative500D
Reardon for Oregon500D
Team BSW500D
Wayne Krieger for State Representative500R
Clark for Mayor400
Oregon Automobile Dealers Association - PAC360
Committee to Elect John E. Huffman1,000R

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