By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
PORTLAND – Like everywhere else, money apparently talks in Oregon. Either that or Nike wasted a lot of cash at the end of 2012 when it spent nearly as much lobbying the legislature in a few months as it did in all of 2011.
The Oregon-based global sports-equipment manufacturer spent $77,770 in the last quarter of 2012, from October 1 through Dec. 31, according to public records reviewed by Northwest Watchdog. That was around the time the company was coaxing Oregon’s governor into holding a special legislative session in which lawmakers agreed to give the company a tax deal.
Nike spent $38,025 in the first three quarters of 2012. The company spent $96,806 in all of 2011 on lobbying the Oregon legislature, according to expenditure reports collected by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.
Nike used the cash to hire lobbyists who persuaded Gov. John Kitzhaber to hold the special session in which lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill granting the company “tax certainty” for 30 years. Critics called it corporate welfare.
“Obviously, special interest money corrupts our democracy,” executive director of Common Cause Oregon Kate Titus said. “No one should be able to buy their own laws. No one should be able to buy their advantage over the general public interest and I think people are frustrated with it.”
But others see it as a speech issue.
“The government can’t exist and can’t function in a vacuum. It has to work with people,” said Danielle Staudt, executive director of the American League of Lobbyists. “We believe that people and companies and issues have the right to petition their government and make sure the government’s informed on how their action or inaction affects their community,” she said.
The new law allows the governor to lock in tax rates for companies creating 500 or more jobs and making a capital investment valued at $150 million or more. Nike officials said they were most interested in keeping Oregon’s Single Sales Factor tax, which means corporations that do business outside the state pay only corporate income taxes on sales transactions inside Oregon.
The company has yet to reveal its plans for expansion, though the Oregonian reports it could be located in Portland. Nike officials declined to comment for this story, saying they did not have comment beyond what is in the lobbying expenditure reports.
The money reported in the fourth quarter might not represent all that Nike spent on lobbying for a special session. The expenditure report shows allocations to three lobbyists, but Nike has 13 lobbyists, five who registered on Dec. 10, just four days before the law was passed during the rushed special session on Dec. 14.
Titus, whose group is lobbying to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the Citizens United case, which declared government could not restrict corporations donating money to campaigns on the basis of free speech, said she sees a parallel issue with spending on lobbyists.
“There needs to be limits. There needs to be full disclosure and transparency,” she said.
Oregon law restricts lawmakers from receiving more than $50 a year in gifts from lobbyists, so most of the money reported is usually spent hiring lobbyists.
Staudt said companies or agencies might need to hire specialists when dealing with something out of the ordinary, say a special session.
“That’s not something you do every day,” she said.
Lawmakers say they’ll look at tax certainty for everybody else — small and mid-sized businesses — in the regular session. But you know what they say about talk: it’s cheap — or at least cheaper than lobbying.