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Kristof's 'red-letter' givers fuel early bid for Oregon governor

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Nicholas Kristof's relationships formed over decades as a journalist are showing up in a strong wave of "red letter" giving to his campaign for governor of Oregon.

The Oregon Secretary of State website lists campaign contributions from outside Oregon in all-red lettering.

It's an intentional highlight to make the items jump out amid long scrolls of in-state giving listed in relatively prosaic black lettering.

Kristof was raised in Yamhill County and lives there today on a farm. In between he's been a Rhodes Scholar and an internationally renowned reporter and columnist for the New York Times.

His subjects have ranged from strife in Darfur to broken lives in Yamhill County, a story that brought him back to Oregon and drove his desire to run for governor.

As of Tuesday, Kristoff has raised $1.44 million since announcing Oct. 17 that he seek to succeed Gov. Kate Brown.

The list of top donors is heavily red-lettered contributions. State records show 32 of the 38 contributions of $10,000 or more to Kristof have come from outside of Oregon.

Kristof's campaign has highlighted the large number of small-dollar contributors from across Oregon, including what it said in an early tally on Nov. 8 included 2,522 residents from 35 of 36 counties. Sherman County, the state's second smallest with under 2,000 residents in a heavily Republican area, was the only fundraising no-show at that point.

As of Tuesday, Kristof's campaign has reported over $175,000 in contributions under $100, for which the state law doesn't require identification of donors.

Kristof's campaign finance reports show a total of 652 contributions over $100, which have to be reported individually.

The largest source of those donations is the 306 from Oregon. There have been 100 contributions from New York state, and 84 from California.

Oregon is also home to Kristof's single largest contribution: $75,000 from the Oregon Labor Policy Network. It's a political action committee and policy center that's a project of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, which endorsed Kristof. At 23,000 members, it is the largest union of private business employees in the state.

Kristof reports spending just over $191,000 on the campaign and has over $1.25 million in the bank.

It's early money in a race that with or without Kristof, by the Nov. 8 election could eclipse the most expensive governor's race in state history.

In 2018, just under $40 million in campaign donations were raised in a race won by Brown over former Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend.

So far, no one is writing multiple $1 million checks like Nike founder Phil Knight did for Buehler in 2018.

The usual fundraising sources are showing up in the campaigns for other candidates. Businesses for Republicans. Unions and activists for Democrats.

But Kristof's contribution list is different. The bulk of the list of givers is heavy with investors, attorneys, CEOs, retired business leaders, and advocates for a variety of causes, plus the big union contribution.

But it also features an eclectic mix of givers, with a smattering of famous names and figures with intriguing backstories.

Top-end givers included a venture capital investor in California, a director of the Rhodes Scholar program (which Kristof and Buehler received to go to Oxford University), two journalists who went on to wealth in other areas (marketing in Los Angeles, wine in Oregon), and the wife of Oregon's largest winemaker.

Billionaire Melinda Gates, the ex-wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates gave $50,000 at the beginning of the fundraising effort.

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, the career and business-oriented website that acts as a digital resume and background check, is one of the latest on board the Kristof campaign, giving $50,000. He lives in Menlo Park, part of Northern California's Silicon Valley.

Fashion designer Diane von Furstenburg of New York gave $5,000, and Jennifer Chun, half of a sister duo of classical and modernist violinists, gave $1,000.

Ruth Messinger, who lost the 1997 election for mayor of New York to Rudy Giuliani, pitched in $1,000, the same amount given by former Sen. Thomas Daschle, D-SD.

Two former U.S. secretaries of the Treasury who served back-to-back in the Clinton administration wrote checks. Robert Rubin's was for $15,000, while Larry Summers gave $5,000.

Rubin's partner at the New York investment banking firm Clearview Partners, a frequent bankroller of Democratic candidates and causes, gave $15,000.

Angelina Jolie, who in 1993 was called "the gold standard for celebrity activism" by Kristof, gave $10,000.

Deborah Fikes of Texas contributed $10,000. She's a noted evangelical Christian and permanent representative to the United Nations for World Evangelical Alliance, representing over 650 million Christians. Once a backer of arch-conservative Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Fikes has said she could no longer stand the harsh rhetoric against Muslims coming from the GOP. She's also active in environmental issues, foreign relations and arms control.

Kristof is likely going to need all the money he can get in a Democratic primary that will include two major state officeholders with their own track records of campaign fundraising.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, reports raising just under $473,000 this year. She's spent just over $60,000 and has just under $503,000 in the bank. Her campaign finance numbers include money raised and spent while listed as the fund for her House campaigns. Her largest single contribution is $40,000 from Mountain Rose Herbs of Eugene. Her largest out-of-state contribution is $10,000 from the American Beverage Association.

Tobias Read has received eight of his 18 contributions over $10,000 from out of state. The biggest contribution was $50,000 from Stephen Silberstein, a tech innovator in Belvedere, California. Read reports raising just over $661,000 and spending just over $229,000. When combined with money he rolled over from his successful 2020 campaign for state treasurer, Read has just over $500,000 in the bank.

If Kristof wins what is likely going to be a bruising and expensive primary, he'll find himself in a three-way race in the general election.

Republicans will select a nominee from among a growing list of activists, mayors, business people and, most recently, House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby.

Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam, Salem oncologist Bud Pierce, and Portland consultant Bridget Barton have all received contributions over $10,000, but not in the overall size and number of Kristof or Read.

The GOP candidate will have to buck history: No Republican has won the governorship since Vic Atiyeh in 1982.

The wild card in 2022 is the likely third candidate on the November ballot.

Betsy Johnson, the moderate Democrat state senator from Scappoose in northwest Oregon, is running for governor as an independent. She has raised just over $2.07 million, while spending just over $273,000. Including funds she rolled over from her 2020 senate campaign fund, Johnson has over $2.32 million in the bank. If she can turn in just under 25,000 valid signatures, she would advance directly to the general election, skipping the primary election.

Johnson has received the single largest contribution, $250,000 from the construction company Pape Group of Eugene. Her largest out-of-state contribution is $160,000 in two contributions from Massachusetts-based Global Companies. It is her only single out-of-state contribution over $10,000.

When he first filed a campaign finance report, Kristof reported no expenditures. Under state law, campaigns have up to 30 days to report transactions. In the days since, Kristof's report sheds light on how he's started spending his money.

The campaign has paid $53,000 to Sapphire Strategies, a Washington, D.C.-based digital campaign planning firm that has ties to top Democrats.

Kristof paid $24,000 to Imperium Political Strategies, run by his campaign treasurer, Elizabeth Wilson. The money was listed as two monthly payments, which would indicate he'll spend $12,000 per month for Imperium's work.

Washington's lobbying apparatus has been traditionally centered around K Street in Washington, D.C. Kristof has paid $20,000 to K Street advertising firm GMMB.

As with most campaigns, Kristof looks to be spending big on digital outreach and advertising. Among those he's hiring is Bully Pulpit, a San Francisco-based firm.

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