When Nike decided to support same-sex marriage in Oregon, it could have issued a statement of support.
Or its executives could have donated directly to Oregon United For Marriage, the group gathering signatures to put the issue to voters in 2014.
Instead, the Beaverton-based company chose to create its own political action committee called the Nike Equality PAC.
“This is kind of the rise of the corporation trying to play a much bigger role and much more overt role in politics,” said Jim Moore, a politics professor at Pacific University. “That kind of money seriously suggests that you are going to be running a campaign.”
Nike seeded its new PAC with $100,000 from the company directly and $180,000 from its executives. To put that in perspective, Oregon United for Marriage has raised nearly $213,000. Protect Marriage Oregon, which opposes same-sex marriage, has about $9,700, and Oregon Family Council Issues PAC has just less than $54,000, according to online records from the secretary of state’s office.
“We chose to set up the Nike Equality PAC so that Nike, and its employees if they choose, have a specific avenue to support campaign efforts that are directly related to winning marriage equality in Oregon,” the company said.
Moore called the decision fascinating because it meant Nike wanted more control over its donation than Oregon United for Marriage could offer.
“To me it was Nike acting like the state of Oregon was the University of Oregon,” Moore said. “When (Nike owner) Phil Knight gives money to the University of Oregon, he can tell them what to do with it.”
Oregon United For Marriage spokeswoman Amy Ruiz said Nike doesn’t plan to run its own commercials or hang its own door tags in support of same-sex marriage complete with Nike swooshes.
Ruiz said the company told the campaign it plans to work with them to “figure out the best way to support our campaign.”
“At this point, they are raising funds,” Ruiz said. “We are not at the point yet where we are talking about expenditures.”
Still, Nike officials have said it’s important the money it raises only be used to overturn Oregon’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and not on other issues.
“That sounds like Nike doesn’t trust the people running the campaign,” Moore said.
Bill Allison, editorial director at the Sunlight Foundation, said he thinks part of the reason may be that the company wants to control the message and what can be traced back to Nike.
“Target gave to a group that was supporting an anti-gay marriage candidate because of clearly economic issues, and they were punished for it,” Allison said.