Jackson County Circuit Court judicial candidates have spent nearly $200,000 in their bids to take the seats of retiring judges Rebecca Orf and William Purdy in the Nov. 4 election, state election records show.
Doug McGeary, former Jackson County counsel, and Tim Barnack, senior deputy district attorney, are vying for Orf's seat, Position 6. Defense attorney Lisa Greif and Joe Charter, justice of the peace, are seeking Purdy's seat, Position 8.
The four candidates have spent a combined $192,212 on their campaigns as of Tuesday, according to the Oregon Secretary of State Elections Division.
Running an effective campaign takes money, the candidates said. But because judges are nonpartisan, no Democratic or Republican machines — or political action committees — contribute to judicial campaigns, they said.
"In a perfect world, I wish we wouldn't have to spend money. But in order to run a decent campaign, you have to spend a lot of money. And a lot of that money ends up being your own money," said Greif.
Greif, the clear favorite of local attorneys in two Oregon State Bar polls, has spent $39,477 on her primary and general election campaigns.
"More than $30,000 was from me or my family members," she said, adding several judges, attorneys and co-workers also have contributed to her campaign.
"You're putting your time, your energy and your pocketbook in it as well," said Greif, adding the plummeting economy has affected candidates' lives, too.
The under vote on judges is high. That so many take a pass on picking a person who can have a profound influence on so many lives is frustrating, said Charter.
"Legislators may create the laws. But the judges apply them," Charter said.
After pledging not to spend more than $2,000 in the primary, Charter spent $37,673 on his general election campaign. Almost half ($17,500) was his own money, state elections data show.
Among the seven judicial candidates who initially participated in the primary election, and the four who continue battling, "close to a quarter-million dollars will be spent in this judicial race," said Charter.
Charter said he "decided to spend a little more this fall to educate voters on the importance of voting for judges and the differences between the candidates."
Charter said he was outspent "10 to 1" in the primary.
He acknowledged accepting donations from attorneys was neither illegal nor unethical, but he refused such contributions because it "creates the wrong impression in the minds of the public."
The biggest spender has been McGeary at nearly $90,000, according to the Elections Division. About $35,000 of his budget was pledged from himself or his family members. The remaining has come from in-kind or cash donations from a wide cross section of contributors, he said.
"I used a lot of my own money. I'm investing in my own candidacy. But you can tell the number of people who support me by the wide range of support," McGeary said.
He also came out on top in the two bar polls. But that isn't enough to secure a win, said McGeary, who has carefully reviewed past successful judicial campaigns.
Barnack pulled out an equity line of credit on his home to finance the bulk of his $25,000 campaign, he said.
"For all the candidates, the majority of the money came from ourselves," Barnack said.
Barnack said voters must wade past the myriad measures on this year's ballot to get to the judicial candidates' names. He used a "rifle" approach to his campaign spending — using bright colors, well-timed ads and targeted markets in an effort to win against a better-financed McGeary, he said.
"I feel good about the campaign," Barnack said.
The willingness to support their candidacy with their own dollars demonstrates their commitment to the community and the judicial process, the candidates said. Each is hoping he or she invested wisely.
"There is a lot of emotion. A lot of ups and downs. A lot of sleepless nights," said McGeary.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.