Willamette Week - Rogue of the Week - Feb 4, 1998

Oregon's top business lobbyist, Richard Butrick, winds up in our Rogues gallery for pushing the bounds of political propriety last week.

Butrick, president of Associated Oregon Industries, printed a fund-raising letter signed by state Senate Majority Leader Gene Derfler in a column appearing in AOI's monthly newsletter.

The letter, written on Derfler's Senate office letterhead, thanked Butrick for helping Republican leaders return the corporate kicker to taxpayers and urged AOI members to send a portion of that refund back to the business PAC.

Though Derfler seems to be the natural target for criticism, a bit of reporting swung our Rogue meter over to Butrick. That's because Derfler didn't write the letter. His office told WW that AOI came up with the idea. According to a Derfler aide, AOI even drafted the letter for the senator. AOI political strategist Dave Moss would not confirm or deny that AOI generated or wrote the letter. "Gene Derfler took ownership," Moss says. "It's irrelevant who wrote it."

We disagree. Certainly, groups on the left and right often draft letters, testimony and speeches for politicians, but Butrick takes the level of deception to another step, passing the letter off as genuine in an attempt to bag some cash. In his column, Butrick wrote, "In a recent letter we received from Senator Gene Derfler, he says he will 'need help in electing more business-minded legislators.'"

What Butrick should have written was, "In a recent letter we wrote for Senator Derfler...." That might not have been as effective, but it would have been a lot more accurate.

Derfler, for his part, earns at least a dishonorable mention for signing the misleading missive. Though it's not illegal under state law, the letter is objectionable. Using the weight of public office to make a pitch for campaign cash is exactly the kind of gray-area fund raising that has made the electorate so cynical about politics.


Complete text of Derfler's letter:

November 24, 1997

Richard M. Butrick
Associated Oregon Industries
1149 Court Street NE
Salem, OR 97301

Dear Richard:

As the time approaches for the state to mail out the personal income tax “kicker” refunds, I have been reflecting on how tough it can sometimes be in politics to do the right thing.  The law clearly requires the state to refund over-collected taxes, but no legislature easily walks away from spending every available dollar.  Even with record funding for schools, prisons, and child abuse programming, there were enormous pressures to spend more.

Senate President Brady Adams and I would simply not have been able to hold the line on spending and return the “kicker” funds without your original campaign investment in Republican leadership, and especially without your statewide media campaign on the “kicker”.  The phone, fax, letter, and radio pressure made the difference in convincing a majority of legislators that the people cared and were watching.

The result will be over $400 million from the personal income tax “kicker” pumped back into Oregon’s economy just as we enter the busiest time in the retail year.  Further, the corporate “kicker” of over $200 million will be available for reinvestment in jobs and expansion in the following year.  These true investments will promote a strong economy that will generate more tax revenue for the next biennium, without raising tax rates at all.

We cannot rest on our laurels, however, since term limits will remove from office many of the key people who supported returning the “kicker” to its rightful owners.  Brady and I will need your help in electing more business-minded legislators to contine the successes of this year.

I hope your members appreciate the key role AOI played in this issue, and they will consider “reinvesting” a portion of their personal and corporate refunds in the business PACs that make it all possible.

Best regards,

Gene Derfler
Senate Majority Leader