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A Battle Over Governor Rages in Oregon. On One Side, Nike. On the Other, Its Founder

Nike founder Phil Knight’s personal politics appear to be at odds with the public face of his company.

Nike famously decided to feature controversial former NFL star Colin Kaepernick in an ad campaign earlier this year, sparking criticism—particularly from the right. Knight, meanwhile, has donated millions to Oregon’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler.

Knight’s donations to Buehler total $2.5 million, breaking records for individual political donations in the state. He had already given $1.5 million directly to Buehler’s campaign, and then made an additional $1 million donation via the Republican Governors’ Association in mid-October. Knight’s contributions amount to more than one-quarter of Buehler’s overall campaign funds.

Nike has broken with its founder, donating $85,000 to Democratic incumbent Gov. Kate Brown. Nevertheless, both Nike and Knight have a history of making donations to both parties. Knight, for example, donated to former Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, while Nike has donated heavily to Republican candidates through the company’s PAC.

The motivation behind Knight’s contributions are not clear, and neither Knight’s nor Buehler’s offices have commented. While Buehler is considered a moderate Republican—he’s pro choice and supports gay rights—Knight’s decision to back him could have consequences for Brown.

Oregon has historically been a firmly blue state, the governor’s race is currently considered competitive. The Cook Political Report shifted the race to a toss-up in mid-October and polls show Brown taking a very slight lead. Oregon is one of only two states where the Democrat incumbent is in a toss-up race; the other is Connecticut.