Oregon Republican candidates for governor this year face an unprecedented challenge: independent candidate Betsy Johnson has locked down huge campaign contributions from some of the largest and most consistent Republican donors.

The highest profile donor in that camp is Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who recently spent $250,000 to help elect Johnson, a former longtime conservative Democratic lawmaker who can skip the primary because she is running with no party. In 2018, Knight gave $2.5 million to moderate Republican gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler’s campaign also sent $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which sent money to Buehler.

But Knight is just one in a notable list of major donors who gave money to Buehler four years ago and are now shelling out big bucks to help elect Johnson, who is from rural Columbia County. That fact, combined with the unusually high number of candidates who have filed or declared they are running in the Republican primary, makes fundraising this year more challenging. Seventeen have so far indicated they are running and several have frontrunner potential.

“It has an impact on the whole field,” said Jessica Gomez, a Republican gubernatorial candidate from Medford who is the CEO of the small microelectronics manufacturer Rogue Valley Microdevices. “We’ve never seen a race quite like this.”

Gomez, who described Johnson as “a great lady” and a friend, noted that whoever wins the Republican primary will attract significant campaign spending. “So I don’t know what the greater impact is,” Gomez said. “But having a large candidate pool always impacts fundraising.”

As of Friday, Johnson had reported raising approximately $4.3 million since 2021, more than any other current gubernatorial candidate.

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One of Johnson’s largest donations, tied with Knight’s’ gift, is $250,000 from heavy equipment dealer The Papé Group. That is roughly equal to the company’s total spending on Buehler’s 2018 gubernatorial bid, according to state campaign finance records.

Jordan Papé, CEO of the company, said in a social media message that he and others at the family business appreciate Johnson’s track record of bipartisanship from her time as a Democrat in the Legislature.

“We are excited to help candidates that believe in building an Oregon where our children can flourish and find exciting careers here at home,” Papé wrote. “We’re proud to support Betsy’s run for Governor as she has shown a willingness to work across party lines to make Oregon a place we can all be proud of.”

The Papé Group has given much smaller donations of $25,000 each to Gomez, former House Republican Leader Christine Drazan and state Treasurer Tobias Read’s campaigns for governor, according to campaign finance records. Read is a Democrat.

Drazan who is from Canby has been fundraising at a fast clip since entering the governor’s race and currently has the most money on-hand of any Republican candidate not self-funding a significant portion of their campaign: $1 million, according to state records. Republican Bob Tiernan, a former state representative from Lake Oswego, has $1 million sitting in his campaign but only because he loaned himself $500,000. He has not yet filed paperwork to run.

Candidates who make it to the general election this year could very well spend tens of millions of dollars in pursuit of a win. In 2018, Buehler and Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, spent more than $37 million.

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Johnson’s fundraising so far includes fourteen individuals and entities that have given at least $100,000. One of those is Shawn Teevin, president and CEO of Teevin Bros. Land and Timber Co., who contributed $35,000 to Buehler’s campaign four years ago.

Teevin said on Friday that he is a lifelong Republican but counts Johnson as a friend and has been impressed by her responsiveness to the needs of people in her former Senate district, which is where Teevin’s business is based. He said Johnson has long been a regular fixture at local community events and has such a tendency to want to help people that he jokes she might even help a local resident track down a missing cat.

“I’ve watched her whole career,” Teevin said. “She’s a ‘get ‘er done’ person.”

“When she decided to run for governor, I was all in,” Teevin said.

— Hillary Borrud