OLYMPIA, July 18.—Here’s the big conclusion we can draw from the latest reports from the state Public Disclosure Commission – if you wait until the last second to run an initiative campaign, you’re going to pay through the nose.
It cost at least $2.1 million to gather the signatures for Initiative 1240 this year – the measure that would allow charter schools to be established for the first time in Washington state. Actually, it’s probably going to be a bit more than that. All the bills haven’t shown up yet — we only know what it cost through the end of June. The campaign ran a lightspeed signature drive, and it collected some 357,000 signatures in just 21 days. So that means the campaign cost at least $5.86 a signature, probably more.
For the record, that ties for the second-fastest initiative drive in state history, the same number of days as last year’s I-1183, which shut down the state liquor stores. The record is held by a state salary increase rollback measure from 1973.
But there’s another campaign this year that has reported all its numbers. That’s Initiative 1185, the business-backed measure that would reinstate the two-thirds for taxes rule. That’s the rule that makes it harder for the Legislature to raise taxes, the one that the voters have passed four times already. It is looking like a bargain by comparison.
Both campaigns turned in their signatures on the same day, July 6. Both used paid signature gatherers, which is commonplace these days. But instead of taking three weeks, I-1185 took three months. Professional initiative promoter Tim Eyman started gathering signatures April 2.
The records show it cost him $1.1 million to collect 320,003 signatures. The per-signature tab? Just $3.35 a signature.
“It’s not the proposition that makes the difference,” Eyman said. “It’s the amount of time you’ve got.”
The upshot being, of course, that the shorter the window, the more you have to pay people to scramble.
Proud to be Cheap
The story is buried in the expenditure reports that most of this year’s campaigns turned in Tuesday, both for candidates and for initiatives. The reports showed where the various big-money campaigns are putting their bucks. Most of them showed action through July 16, though the report for I-1240 covered only the month of June instead and was turned in a week earlier.
Right now the secretary of state’s office is tallying the numbers for the two initiative campaigns, though it is a pretty safe bet that both will make it. The figures for the cost of the two initiative campaigns, it should be noted, don’t include the polling or the printing or administrative overhead of the campaigns, so Washington State Wire’s numbers may differ from those published elsewhere. These figures just count the amounts paid to the signature gathering companies, Citizen Solutions for 1185 and PCI for 1240. In Eyman’s case, the amount includes money paid directly to the signature gathering company from the Association of Washington Business PAC and the Washington Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association.
Here’s the funny thing Eyman sees. Initiative campaigns are supposed to turn in 241,153 signatures, and there are always duplicates and there are bound to be problems with others. So the secretary of state’s office always says a campaign ought to shoot for a safety margin. This year is it is telling campaigns 320,000 is a good number.
Some people might think that extra 37,000 signatures collected by I-1240 is an expression of greater public support. Certainly more people signed the petitions. Charter school proponents say they hit exactly the mark they intended. Naturally Eyman looks at it differently. It’s a sign of a campaign in a last-minute scramble. He says if he brought in 320,003 signatures, that’s exactly three more signatures than he needed, and maybe the campaign spent a grand total of $10 more than it had to. And if the other one spent more than that and got more signatures than it needed — that’s what happens when you rush.
Inslee Ad Costs a Half-Million
We can see that the campaign for Democrat Jay Inslee spent $472,657 for the TV ad that began airing statewide over the 4th of July holiday week – the first ad to air in this year’s gubernatorial race.
We also can see that Inslee placed deposits for TV ad buys on July 3 and July 13 totalling $237,532. That means more entertainment on the way for the lucky TV audience. Meanwhile, the campaign for Republican Rob McKenna hasn’t gone on the air yet, and no ad buys show up in the latest expenditure report. Doesn’t mean much, though. We can expect millions to be spent on advertising this year by both sides, so stay tuned.
Donor Lists Flesh Out
We can also see a few things in the donor lists for the various campaigns. For I-1185, the biggest contributions come from the industries that are the most likely targets for tax increases – the beer and wine biz, oil refiners and soda-pop makers. But it has a rather wide array of supporters, once you get past that first million or so.
Among the associations kicking in are the Washington Restaurant Association, the Washington State Farm Bureau, the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association, the Washington Retail Association, the Washington Food Industry Associaton, the Washington Bankers Association, the Washington Association of Realtors and the Washington Association of Community Banks. Some are contributing to the AWB PAC, it should be noted, and others are contributing directly to Eyman’s campaign.
Other support comes from the Port Blakely Tree Farms, Premera Blue Cross, RAI Services, Alaska Airlines, Georgia Pacific, the Sabey Corp., Kemper Development and Liberty Mutual.
Meanwhile, the contributors to I-1240 seem to be rounding out a list of some of the big dogs in the tech business and ed reform community – which helps explain why a $2 million signature drive isn’t a stretch. So far the campaign has raised $3.3 million. New on the list of big contributors is Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, with $600,000, and Bruce and Jolene McCaw with $100,000. Mr. McCaw is one of the McCaw-Communications McCaws. Other earlier contributors are raising their contributions. The full list includes Bill Gates and Paul Allen of Microsoft and the parents of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, among others.