Todd Lochner discusses campaign finance at the Pamplin inauguration ceremony. Photo by Aidan D'Anna

Political science professor earns distinction

Members of the Lewis & Clark community gathered to celebrate Associate Professor of Political Science Todd Lochner at his inauguration as the Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Associate Professor of Government on Oct. 21. Lochner delivered his inaugural lecture, titled “A Realist’s Critique of Campaign Finance Regulation and Enforcement” and subsequently answered questions from the audience. 

LC President Wim Wiewel kicked off the event, discussing the importance of faculty to the overall mission of the college. 

“In confirming the professorship of Todd Lochner, we are also honoring and celebrating the dedication of work of all our faculty,” Wiewel said. “Our strategic plan … underscores our commitment to strengthen (the faculty’s) ability to continue lively and rigorous teaching and innovative research. So tonight, we really reaffirm our institutional commitment to our faculty, which is just as deep and as real as their commitment is to our students.”

Next, Dean of the College and Associate Professor of Japanese Bruce Suttmeier introduced Lochner. Suttmeier mentioned that many of Lochner’s students spoke highly of his teaching ability. 

“(His students) talked about him combining the highest of expectations with a fierce dedication to supporting their education, and it’s no surprise that he has combined his pedagogical work with the scholarship,” Suttmeier said.

Suttmeier also stressed that Lochner is an involved faculty member who helps to improve the college in many different aspects. 

“As a tireless advocate to his students, as the chair of the political science department for many years, as a colleague who serves on standing committees, ad hoc committees and search committees, and who, in a recent self-assessment concluded the section on service to the college by writing ‘I am always happy to serve as the needs of the college dictate,’” Suttmeier said. “And I know he was tweaking me a little bit but he means it.”

Following Suttmeier, Lochner began his lecture describing how Oregon is unique in its campaign finance regulation.

“Oregon is an outlier, we do it a little bit differently,” Lochner said. “Most states have what we call contribution limits, which limits the amount of money I as an individual, you as a labor union a corporation can give to a candidate …  That’s what we have for most of the time of the 20th century actually or until about 1994. A measure was passed that tightened campaign finance regulation, and that was challenged. Ultimately, in a case called Vannatta v. Kiesling, the Oregon State Supreme Court declared those contribution limits unconstitutional. Hence, we are left with what’s known as a disclosure-only regime. I can give as much money as I want to say a gubernatorial candidate so long as I disclose it.”

According to Lochner, this system comes with mixed and sometimes unintended results. 

“This system has several consequences,” Lochner said. “First thing, state campaigns in Oregon tend to be pretty expensive comparatively. Reporting by the Oregonian found a per capita corporate interests give more money to Oregon lawmakers over the last decade in any other state in the union. So, there’s a belief here, essentially, that …  lack of contributions limits incentivizes an arms race for political contributions. The second consequence, not surprisingly, claims of undue corporate influence.”

In a case that is currently under appeal at the Oregon Supreme Court, Multnomah County recently tried to institute contribution limits, which was initially decided to be unconstitutional. Arguments are being heard on Nov. 1. There is also a proposed amendment to the Oregon State Constitution that would allow for campaign contributions, and according to Lochner, this will be on ballots next November. Lochner further discussed the implications of this decision.

“I want to suggest we’ll likely get three unintended consequences if we adopt contribution limits,” Lochner said. “First, money that did flow to candidates will start flowing to Super PACs, 501c4s and independent expenditures more broadly. Second, the system may potentially become less transparent if money indeed flows to 501c4s. Third, and finally, regulatory enforcement will become more challenging. To be clear, this may still be worth doing …  the net positive as we think about a matter of policy. The important thing to recognize is to know what you’re buying, know what the likely consequences of this constitutional amendment would entail.”

Lochner believes that while there are good and bad arguments against contribution limits, the money in Oregon politics is unlikely to disappear and could possibly lead to less transparency, making it even more difficult to regulate. In order to avoid these consequences, Lochner recommends four points of action. 

“First, require disclosure of dark money to the extent that the law allows,” Lochner said. “Second, you want to work to ensure timely and accurate public dissemination of contributions expenditures and campaign finance enforcement actions, you want to maximize disclosure as a way of trying to prevent the skew, that increased regulation is going to bring.”

According to Lochner, Oregon has to be careful with how it proceeds to avoid similar problems that poorly introduced contribution limits have had in other cases. 

“Third, we’re going to need to significantly increase staff at the election division in the Secretary of State’s office to facilitate more systematic and speedy investigations,” Lochner said. “The worst-case scenario is that we adopt the contribution limit regime that proves incapable of meaningful enforcement. That’s what we have at the federal level today and it is an unmitigated disaster. We don’t want that in Oregon. Finally, we need to ensure random audit reform as well as prosecutorial discretion among the election division necessary to quickly dispense with low-level actions.”

After the Q&A portion Lochner closed the event with an anecdote from his first year teaching at LC about how a student became more confident in defending her argument in class. According to Lochner, when he called on her towards the end of the semester, she demonstrated that she had developed great argumentative skills.

“She raised her hand and said, ‘Okay Professor Lochner, first I don’t accept your argument and I think you misinterpreted Scalia’s point purposely, you’re overstating it,’” Lochner said. “Second this, third this. She just destroyed me. I’ve loved the banter with students. They’re smart, they’re talented, and when you punch, they can punch back.”

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