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State News

Monday, March 7, 2005

Grocers pay hefty bill to stock up on political clout

Big spenders

State's top-spending business group is Grocery Association STEVE LAW Statesman Journal

Following are top-spending business and labor political action committees for Oregon's 2004 elections:

March 7, 2005

Oregon Education Association (teachers union): $916,025

Looking for the cash that bankrolls many political campaigns in Oregon?

You will find it at Fred Meyer. And Safeway, and Albertsons, and others in the food industry.

Citizens Action by Public Employees (state workers union): $807,523

Seemingly overnight, the Oregon Grocery Association has risen to top of the heap in Salem when it comes to political spending by business groups.

Oregon Grocers Association (groceries and food industry): $753,311

That brings the group newfound political muscle that could prove pivotal in determining party control of the Legislature and the outcome of ballot-measure campaigns.

The grocers shelled out $750,000 in Oregon's 2004 campaign cycle, a seven-fold increase from a decade ago. Grocers' 2004 political contributions were 50 percent higher than the heretofore top-spending business lobby, the Oregon Victory Political Action Committee. Also, grocers approached spending by Oregon's best-endowed lobbies, the teachers and state workers unions.

Oregon Victory Political Action Committee (businesses seeking Republican-controlled Legislature): $502,601

Oregon Restaurant Association (restaurants and tavern owners): $409,457

"You get known as a player in Salem not by the strength of your arguments and ideas, but by the strength of your checkbook," said Janice Thompson, coordinator of the Money in Politics Research Action Project. "That's what's going on here."

SOURCE: Contribution and expenditure reports filed with Oregon Elections Division

Leading the food industry's political emergence is Joe Gilliam, who left his job as a small-business lobbyist in 1999 to become president of the Oregon Grocers Association.

The industry was put on the defensive by a 1996 initiative campaign to expand the bottle bill, which it opposed, Gilliam said.

"That really kind of cemented the fact that we have to be organized in terms of telling our side of the story," he said.

Gilliam said that while leading the Oregon chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business for more than a decade, he never raised more than $33,000 for an election season.

Now he is raising a greater sum from each of the big Oregon grocery chains while also receiving national money from the likes of Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods and other industry giants.

"We just want to be able to compete with all interests," Gilliam said. "Negotiations without some muscle just doesn't move this process."

Gilliam had been influential in Salem politics because he represented small business and was a font of creative policy ideas, said Chuck Adams, a Republican political consultant.

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