IN AN INCREASINGLY HIGH-STAKES political gambit, Lynn Snodgrass, the stalwart Republican from Eastern Oregon, has raised an eye-popping $700,000 for this year's Secretary of State race. In the process, Snodgrass has transformed what is usually a sleepy race for the state's second most powerful position into a heated battle where, to stay competitive, candidates must match Snodgrass' ante.

But, complain advocates for campaign reform, this is exactly the type of mismatched political race where the results are dictated more by campaign spending than actual political merits. In contrast to Snodgrass' well-stocked coffers, Pacific Green Party candidate Lloyd Marbet has only gathered $2,121--enough cash to pay for maybe two radio spots or enough gas to drive around the state and glad-hand voters. With Snodgrass and incumbent Bill Bradbury far ahead in the polls, the uneven spending is already reflected in the race.

"The person with the most money wins," said Maidi Terry, campaign manager for Oregon Political Accountability Campaign (OPAC). The primary focus of OPAC for this coming elections is Ballot Measure 6, a voter initiative intended to correct these spending discrepancies.

Under Measure 6, candidates would be limited to $5 contributions. Thereafter, each candidate receives an equal amount of funding from the state. In the past, similar efforts in Oregon have failed or been overturned as unconstitutional, as they violate the free speech rights of contributors to voice their political opinions by way of supporting their favorite candidates with money. But Measure 6 differs in that it sets up a voluntary system; candidates decide themselves whether to participate or not. Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont have similar plans.

In spite of incumbent Bill Bradbury's attempts to keep pace with Snodgrass' money train--already Bradbury has raised an estimated $400,000--he claims to be an enthusiastic supporter of Measure 6. If the measure passes, Bradbury says, he will heed the rules in future races.

Surprisingly, however, the candidate who would be most affected by Political Accountability Act is not endorsing the measure. Even though Measure 6 would level the playing field for his own race, Marbet does not believe that Measure 6 addresses overall problems with corporate sponsorship. Moreover, he believes that the voluntary nature of Measure 6 will not truly rein in political campaigns. Marbet has set self-imposed limits for campaign financing. He doesn't accept contribution in excess of $1000 or any money from corporations.