Current Event: Campaign Finance Reform

George Washington is known for being the “first” in American history. One of the lesser known “firsts” of his political career is related to campaign finance laws. While campaigning to be elected for public office in Virginia in 1757, George Washington bought just under two hundred dollars worth of punch, beer and hard cider for friends and potential voters prior to an election. The Virginia legislature responded by passing a law prohibiting candidates, or persons on their behalf from giving voters “money, meat, drink, entertainment… any present, gift, reward.. in order to be elected.” 

Since that mid-18th century law, the United States and Oregon have a long and complicated history as it relates to the laws that govern the money in and around politics, political campaigns, and elected government officials. Oregon is one of the five states in the U.S. that allow unlimited contributions to candidates and ballot measures. In 2020, voters responded to this fact by approving, by a significant margin, ballot Measure 107, which amended the state’s constitution to authorize the state legislature and local governments to i) enact laws or ordinances limiting campaign contributions and expenditures; ii) require disclosure of contributions and expenditures; and iii) require that political advertisements identify the people or entities that paid for them. Since that ballot measure passed, despite efforts of some legislators, no state legislation has been passed regulating campaign finance or limiting contributions.

Outside of the legislative process, groups have been trying, once again, to use the ballot measure initiative to enact campaign finance reform within Oregon. Working together, members of the League of Women Voters, Portland Forward, and Honest Elections Oregon put forward three ballot measures that would limit how much money individuals, unions, and political action committees could give candidates or political action committees;  as well as create a new public funding system for elections, and require all political advertisements to include disclaimers about who paid for them. Those three ballot measures were rejected by the Secretary of State’s office for failing to meet technical requirements. The three groups sought intervention from the Oregon Supreme Court, but were denied, as the state’s highest court said it would not take up a challenge, thus marking an end of campaign finance reform within Oregon until 2023 or 2024.

Campaign finance reform has become a topic of importance for a number of government groups, as public opinion has demonstrated a growing concern of money’s influence in American politics. The national conversation has amplified since 2010, when a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, ruled that limiting “independent political spending” from corporations and other special interest groups violates the first amendment right to free speech.

This week’s Current Events resources examine campaign finance and efforts to reform existing regulations. The resources shared provide information and context about campaign finance, the debate around reform and efforts to modify the laws at both a state and federal level.

Looking for more current events resources?  Sign up at our We the Teachers Educator Resource Community page, where you can find all of our Current Events, and learn about our other programs!


Essential Questions, Vocabulary & Extend the Resources:

  • What is Campaign Finance Reform?
  • Which government entities can regulate campaign financing? 
  • What are the federal regulations on contributions made to political campaigns?
  • What are the current regulations Oregon has regarding contributions made to political campaigns?
  • What are the various viewpoints around the current controversy surrounding Oregon’s campaign finance laws?
  • In your opinion, what effects do you think campaign contributions have on a political candidate once they take office?
  • In your opinion, what, if any, steps should Oregon take to regulate campaign contributions going to Oregon-based political candidates?

Click here for a hardcopy of the Essential Questions & Campaign Finance Reform Vocabulary

Click here for a hardcopy of the Extend the Resources handout with suggested lesson activities and extensions





The fight over campaign finance limits, OPB Politics Now

The Federal Election Commission, Civics 101, NPR

Campaign Finance Reform, The Dive Podcast, Willamette Week, February 11, 2022

The Complicated Relationship Between Campaign Finance And Democracy, Democracy Works, December 10, 2018


Image Resources:

Background Resources:

Recent Articles:


Recent Editorials:


Lesson Plans:


Media & News Literacy Lesson Plans:

Media Literacy ResourcesNewseum

Resource LibraryNews Literacy Project

News & Media Literacy LessonsCommon Sense

Media Misinformation, Viral Deception, and “Fake News”University of Wyoming

Evaluating Sources in a ‘Post-Truth’ World: Ideas for Teaching and Learning About Fake NewsNew York Times Lessons