By Les Zaitz
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Greg Walden was busy early this year – leading a powerful Congressional committee, sitting at President Trump’s elbow at meetings, holding all-night hearings on new health care legislation.
He was also busy raising campaign cash – more than any other member of the Oregon delegation in the first three months of this year. He collected nearly $1 million in 90 days with an eye on an election that is more than a year away.
The committee Walden for Congress reported $789,270 in contributions. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley came close, reporting $760,193. No one else was near that total: U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, $242,550; U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, $126,078; U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, $104,987, and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, $25,502.
Walden’s second committee – the Walden Victory Fund – reported contributions of $129,500. That included a $50,000 contribution from Jay Graham, a wealthy Texas oilman.
The Walden for Congress reports show donors from far eastern Oregon provided a fraction of the $261,823 he raised from individuals or businesses. In Malheur County, donors were associated with just three firms. Linda Bentz of Juntura and her MLB Juntura Ranch each gave Walden $1,000. Snake River Produce Co. of Nyssa and its manager Kay Riley each gave $500, as did Jim Farmer of Deseret Farms in Nyssa.
Other donors in the region were Richard Frasch, a rancher from Enterprise, with $1,000; Dan Jordan, a Burns insurance agent, $500; Elizabeth Mackenzie, a Baker City rancher, $250; and Charles Johnston, a retired doctor from Pilot Rock, $300.
Overall, the reports show Oregon donors provided less than half of Walden’s individual contributions.
Political action committees, representing everything from dermatologists to garbage collectors, were Walden’s most potent source of campaign money. In all, Walden reported getting $527,292 from the political committees with just one – the PGE PAC – based in Oregon. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association PAC gave $6,000.
The Democratic Party of Oregon in a statement to the Enterprise said Walden “has an ongoing history of voting for special interests.”
The party, which hasn’t fielded a competitive candidate against Walden in recent elections, said he “is continuing to receive big donations from the special interests he has been catering to instead of his constituents – most notably the healthcare and telecom industries.”
The reports show the cost of running for Congress, where Walden has served since 1998. His committee spent $183,000 in the first three months of this year on expenses that included staff, printing, and political consultants. He also transferred $150,000 to the Republican National Congressional Committee, the House group focused on electing Republicans to Congress. Walden chaired the group until last fall.
The report showed some fund-raising work for Walden took place in luxury settings.
In February, his campaign spent $6,370 on travel and fund-raising expenses at the St. Regis Deer Valley, a five-star resort outside Park City, Utah. The following month Walden’s committee spent $6,341 for a fund-raising event at BLT Prime, a Washington steak house operating in President Trump’s hotel, the Trump International. The campaign also listed a $3,000 travel expense at Skamania Lodge – roughly a half hour from Walden’s home in Hood River.
The Walden Victory Fund, a separate political committee, listed a $6,000 expense in February for “event site rental” of the Allison Inn and Spa in Newberg, which describes itself as a “wine country resort.”
Marta Simons of Hood River, treasurer for Walden for Congress, didn’t return two telephone messages and Lisa Lisker, the Washington-based treasurer for the Walden Victory Fund, said she couldn’t answer questions. Justin Discigil, Walden’s spokesman, asked for written questions but responded with a general statement without answering them.
Discigil said the campaign money is “used judiciously to support Greg’s campaign” and that Walden’s supporters understand his role trying to elect Republicans.
“Greg’s supporters also understand the only thing they receive in return for their contribution is a ‘thank you.’ “ Discigil said.