Our VoiceImmigration

Anti-Immigrant Activists Give Major Funding to Halt “Driver Cards” in Oregon


Imagine 2050 Staff • Oct 01, 2013

Since Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber signed Senate Bill 833, which provides “driver cards” to undocumented immigrants in May, anti-immigrant activists have attempted to halt its implementation. The Protect Oregon Driver Licenses campaign (PODL) has been collecting signatures in hopes of getting a referendum measure to overturn the law during next year’s elections. For the measure to be on the ballot, 58,142 signatures are required, and today marks the deadline for PODL supporters to turn in collected signatures to be counted and verified before being submitted to the Secretary of State’s office.

The organized anti-immigrant movement has unsuccessfully opposed legislation granting driver’s licenses – or some form of legal driving privileges – to undocumented immigrants in many states. Such legislation has recently passed legislatures in California, and Colorado. Additionally, lawmakers in North Carolina recently approved a measure to study and consider granting similar driving privileges. The referendum campaign to block SB 833 in Oregon represents one of the most organized and well-funded efforts in recent history. Regardless of its success, PODL organizers will be able to share knowledge gleaned from the experience and help apply it to similar efforts in other states.

Supporters for Senate Bill 833 gather outside the Oregon state capitol.

The PODL referendum effort is funded by two primary sources. One is Nevada businessman Loren E. Parks who, as The Oregonian reports, has contributed over $43,000 to the campaign. Parks owns a medical equipment business in Aloha, Oregon and has contributed over $13 million to conservative political causes over the years. State financial records reveal that PODL’s other primary benefactor is none other than Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR) – a Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR) state contact group.

OFIR’s leadership is also unsurprisingly at the helm of the PODL campaign. According to the Oregon Secretary of State’s records, OFIR Vice President Richard F. LaMountain is listed as a “Chief Petitioner” of the campaign and OFIR President Cynthia Kendoll has served as the campaign’s chief spokesperson, writing letters to editors of various local papers as well as writing op-eds and providing interviews. Kendoll and other OFIR representatives are closely connected to the anti-immigrant movement having regularly attended FAIR’s annual Hold Their Feet to the Fire event as well as a Center for Immigration Studies-sponsored tour of the U.S/Mexico border.

According to state records accessed on September 25, OFIR’s political action committee has contributed over $10,000 to PODL. Additionally, former OFIR Vice President Elizabeth VanStaaveren has personally contributed $4,000. While unimpressive compared to Parks and OFIR’s contributions, former FAIR board member Henry Buhl contributed $500 to the campaign as well. PODL has used these contributions primarily for paid signature gatherers, postage and office supplies, and marketing materials including a website designed by anti-immigrant activist Fred Elbel. Elbel, who also heads the FAIR-affiliated Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform, received $2,150 from PODL for his services.

Kendoll and other PODL representatives have played their cards close to their chest. Refusing to disclose how many signatures they have collected, opting in interviews to claim they are simply “on pace.” Whether this is simple modesty or an attempt to mislead, a watchful eye must be kept on such efforts. Providing legal driving privileges to undocumented immigrants makes roads safer and in the future similar legislation will certainly appear in other states. No matter how many signatures PODL ultimately gathers, those who wish to improve public safety and expand immigrant rights must recognize that nativist opposition will persist – and respond accordingly.

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