Warren and Sanders vs. Big Business in Oregon's Corporate Tax Fight

An all-out, big-money ballot war is being waged in Oregon as a local effort to tax corporations has seen record levels of outside opposition spending while drawing the support of national progressive leaders Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Measure 97 would impose a gross receipts tax on corporations whose annual sales in Oregon exceed $25 million, “generating an estimated $3 billion a year for public education and other state services,” according to The Oregonian.

Predictably, the initiative, put on the ballot by several public employee unions under the umbrella of Our Oregon, has won the ire of the state’s powerful technology sector and other retail behemoths, but recent reporting has revealed that a “major influx of campaign contributions opposing Measure 97 has made the measure the costliest in Oregon elections history.”

“We’ve never seen this kind of out-of-state spending before,” lobbyist Len Bergstein, who first managed a statewide campaign in 1974, told the Willamette Week.

“We’ve always been kind of a cheap test market for things you might want to take to other states,” Bergstein explained. “But with the locus of power shifting away from the federal level, people can rationalize heavy spending at the state level.”

Progressives hope the measure is something that will be replicated elsewhere.

  • A Killer Dispatched From California is Strangling Oregon Unions and Measure 97
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  • Oregon Locals Take On Corporate Power With ‘Tax Corporations’ Measure 97
    Dave Johnson (People’s Action Blog)
  • Undermining Democracy, Corporations Pouring Millions into Local Ballot Fights
    Lauren McCauley (Common Dreams)

In a recent interview with the Huffington Post, Warren held up Measure 97 as an example of how citizens can pressure Congress, which is currently planning a massive new corporate tax break.

“State ballot initiatives are sending a giant message to Congress that the American people want to see change,” Warren said, adding that Measure 97 “is a good step to help make the system fairer.”


Our Revolution, Sanders’ presidential campaign spill-off, has also promoted the measure as a means of collecting some of the billions of dollars that corporations avoid paying through offshore taxation loopholes.

“At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, it is time for large profitable corporations to start paying their fair share of taxes,” Sanders declared in his endorsement of the initiative. “I think quality education, improved health care and the ability to retire in dignity are worth asking the biggest corporations and Wall Street to pay a little more.”

Tweets about #m97 OR #Measure97

But rhetoric like that is exactly why corporations are pouring in money to defeat the measure. As of last week, “groups against the corporate tax measure have contributed more than $22.5 million toward its defeat,” The Oregonian reported, with contributions coming from the likes of Comcast, Wells Fargo, and British Petroleum, among others.

Meanwhile, those in favor raised an estimated $10.5 million. “That puts the combined figure for spending on the measure at more than $33 million, which also eclipses the previous record of $29.6 million in total spending on a ballot measure,” the newspaper noted.

“The prior record was also set during the contentious run-up to the GMO labeling measure election, in which it lost by fewer than 1,000 votes.”

Buoyed by the wave of corporate dollars, the opposition campaign brought on California political consultant Paul Mandabach, who has “developed a reputation for being professional, ruthless and, most importantly, deadly to progressive ballot measures,” according to the Willamette Week.

Under Mandabach’s guidance, the opposition is gaining ground.

According to the Willamette Week, “since early September, support for the tax has plummeted 15 percentage points under a blizzard of negative television ads, from 60 percent in July to the mid-40s in three polls conducted this month.”

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