Conservatives #1 Target: Clackamas

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There appears to be an intriguing shift in conservative funders’ political strategy in Oregon, and the clearest signs are showing up in a handful of key local elections in Clackamas County.

Loren Parks, the well-known sex hypnotist, has long been known for funding the bad ideas of Kevin Mannix and Bill Sizemore. He’s used his fortune to become the single largest campaign donor in Oregon history, largely focusing on statewide ballot measures as a way to promote his conservative agenda in Oregon.Until now, that is.

Lately, Parks is following a new pattern. After a short hiatus from Oregon spending, Parks resumed his old attempts to influence Oregon politics and policy by mailing checks into Oregon, starting about a year ago.

But he appears to have severed ties with Mannix and Sizemore. Instead, Parks has been selectively targeting Clackamas County specific issues and candidates. In fact, in just the past year, Parks has contributed over $140,000 into Oregon**, most of it targeted to influence Clackamas County.

Parks donated $15,000 to Clackamas Rail Vote in February to fund the Tea Party-driven anti-light rail measures. He also donated nearly $50,000 to front groups who then shuttled the money directly into the campaign of John Ludlow (R), candidate for Clackamas County Commissioner seat.

Why Clackamas?

What is Parks up to? What interest does a Nevada resident have with Oregon, much less a specific county in Oregon?

It may have something to do with the conservative right’s new strategy to take over local government. Over the past year, Oregon Tea Party and AFP groups have begun pushing their members to become PCPs (Precinct Committee Persons,) School Board members, and other local activist positions. At the same time, the state’s biggest conservative donors are now dumping funds into local campaigns either directly or through front groups.

And the Number One target for these efforts is Clackamas County. 

In addition to Parks, much of the conservative money flowing into the county is coming from a political committee called the Oregon Transformation Project, which is controlled by Rep. Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point) and Oregon GOP Chair Allen Alley. The committee is funded almost entirely by large timber companies and is funding a slate of candidates for the county commission: John Ludlow for chair, and Tootie Smith and Jim Knapp for the commissioner seats.

To prop up these candidates, Oregon Transformation Project has poured more than $175,000 into their races, with most of that going to Ludlow.

In yesterday’s Oregonian, reporter Yuxing Zheng has a really insightful article looking at the impact the group (and its deep pockets) is having on the county. While the Oregon Transformation Project spokesperson denies that they recruited Ludlow, he tells the paper that it was their recruiting efforts and their money that influenced his decision to enter the race.

Meanwhile, the flood of outside funds isn’t exactly sitting well with other conservatives in the county, who are backing Paul Savas. Tea Party activists argue that the Oregon Transformation Project is actually splitting the conservative movement in Clackamas. According to the reporting by Zheng, the infighting is getting ugly.   

The Definition of Astroturf

It may look green, but all you have to do is look closely to see that what’s happening in Clackamas isn’t “grassroots.” It’s astroturf. Candidates are recruited by organizations funded to the brim with cash from millionaires like Loren Parks, Stimson Lumber, and the Koch Brothers. They recruit members, “train them” on which issues to promote, and then fully fund those campaigns.

What’s happening in Clackamas isn’t a popular uprising, but a strategic political chess move by right-wing millionaires intent on gaining power. They can’t win statewide, so now they’re trying to take over the state community by community, starting with Clackamas.

** It’s extremely difficult to track Loren Parks’ contributions, because they’re coded under multiple names. To gain the full picture of how much money Parks is shuttling into Oregon, it’s necessary to search transactions of: Loren Parks, Loren E Parks, Loren E. Parks, Park’s Medical Electronics, Parks Medical Electronics, and so on. Notably, this doesn’t even include the funds that flow out of his non-profit organizations to political groups.

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