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Brown vs. Buehler: A closer look at the contentious ads in Oregon's gubernatorial race

PORTLAND, Ore. — A contentious gubernatorial race in Oregon is brewing between incumbent Gov. Kate Brown (D) and State Representative Knute Buehler (R), one that has brought fierce advertising to your local airwaves a little early this election season.

"What they're trying to do is set an agenda that other candidates will also have to run against as we go into the November election," said Pacific University Professor Jim Moore.

KGW's Verify team analyzed two of these ads to see if they pass the truth test.


An ad paid for by Priority Oregon aims to shift the focus of the gubernatorial race to the Public Employees Retirement System, more commonly known as PERS:

PERS is more than $20 billion in the red and unless it is reformed, the pension fund will continue to take money away from state and city services, local school districts and essential services.

The ad was put together by Priority Oregon, a business-oriented non-profit group which has been criticized for not revealing its donors. Because of their status as a non-profit group, they won't have to reveal their donors until after the election.

It claims, in part:

Gov. Brown refuses to require government employees to contribute to their pension costs.

So is it true? Take it with a grain of salt.

"They're factually true. They are, in terms of context, false," Moore said.

Public employees contribute 6 percent of their paychecks to their retirement accounts, as required by a 2003 law passed by the legislature.

However, that money doesn't go to PERS. It goes to a contribution account, like an IRA, that belongs to the employee.

Moore says there have been plenty of proposals over the years to reform this system.

"Some moderate Democrats have said, 'You know, if we had the employees put their money straight into PERS instead of into this side account, that would be millions of more dollars that we wouldn't have to make up for local school districts or cities paying into PERS.' They're trying to say Kate Brown ought to be calling for that reform," Moore explained.

To be clear, Brown doesn't write and pass laws by herself -- it would take the efforts of the legislature to reform PERS.

Brown's office sent the following statement in reaction to the ad:

It’s a lie. The governor does require employees to contribute to their pension costs. As a result of bargaining negotiations between the state and unions, employees now pay a 6 percent “pickup” into their retirement accounts. We still don’t know who’s funding these baseless attack ads. But given how little respect for the truth Priority Oregon has, I guess their funders are ashamed of taking credit for their work.


Defend Oregon's Values was formed in late July by a union-funded group supporting Brown, and has been running an ad questioning Buehler's stance on women's healthcare and abortion.

It says in part:

Recently Knute Buehler said, "I have a record in the legislature of voting against Gov. Brown's efforts to expand access to abortion. Buehler has attacked Planed Parenthood and he supports restrictions that "pro-lifers would never get from Brown." The Planned Parenthood PAC for Oregon says Buehler has "promised to restrict access to essential healthcare."

Moore said Buehler, like any lawmaker, can be cherry-picked as "for" or "against" almost any issue. He says voters should look at Buehler's track record on abortion.

"Remember, Buehler has prided himself on being a moderate Republican, so on health care issues, he has actually tended to go with the Democrats. On fiscal issues, he's gone with the Republicans. When you get to his stance on abortion, he's pretty clear that he's pro-choice, but he doesn't see that there should be a broadening of the access to abortion," Moore explained.

The ad comes as Oregon voters are being asked to vote on abortion restrictions. Oregon is considered one of the most pro-choice states in the country. It's one of just a handful of states that actually provides state funding for abortion, and is the only state that hasn't passed any legislation to restrict it.

Measure 106, which will be on the ballot in November, would ban state funding for abortions.

Buehler's campaign released the following statement regarding the ad:

This false attack is another attempt from Kate Brown to distract from her failed leadership. She refuses to talk about our broken education system, growing homelessness crisis, or the abused children in our foster care system. Where are Governor Brown’s ideas for solving Oregon’s big problems?”

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