Imagine that

Say it isn't so.

Politicians charging supporters to attend a luncheon to chat with legislators and candidates as a way to raise campaign funds? Whoever heard of such a thing?

Evidently not Oregon Republicans, who filed an ethics complaint last week charging Democratic leaders with violating state law. Those named in the complaint include Democratic gubernatorial nominee and former governor John Kitzhaber, Senate President Peter Courtney and Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, the House co-chairman of the Joint Ways and Means Committee.

An invitation to the event advertised a private gathering at a cost of $1,500 a person and the opportunity to discuss "session issues" with the party leadership.

The Oregon Republican Party, which apparently is unfamiliar with the novel idea of charging people to attend fundraisers, raised a ruckus, alleging that the event violates Oregon Revised Statute 244.040. The statute in question forbids a public official or former public official from realizing personal financial benefit from confidential information gained as a result of holding public office.

In this case, any financial benefit from the $1,500 tickets to the event goes to the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund, which helps finance political campaigns. No individual official will benefit personally.

The Republicans know this very well, because they do exactly the same thing. They may not be able to demand $1,500 a ticket, but that's only because they're not in the majority at the moment.

So the GOP complaint is a stretch at best.

Does that make the Democrats' event squeaky-clean? Hardly.

Political fundraisers — including high-ticket ones — are an unfortunate fact of life. They also are legal, as long as state laws requiring public disclosure of contributions are followed.

But anytime a well-heeled donor forks over a chunk of change for a private session with legislative leaders, that donor is getting access to those leaders that is unavailable to ordinary voters. And the fact that both parties do it does not make it right.

The Republicans are taking advantage of an opportunity to make their opponents look like out-of-touch elitists, and you can bet they will hammer the Democrats on this right up to election day.

Voters should take that for what it's worth. And the leaders of both parties should not be surprised when their reputation with the public continues to slide.

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