OLYMPIA, Oct. 31.—Maybe this won’t surprise anyone who has been watching television lately, but spending on this year’s races in Washington state has already set a record — $157 million so far. Yet the governor only gets a quarter.
A quarter of the total, that is. There’s still a week to go and the number is sure to go higher. But that money tells a story. It tells us where the hottest races are, where they mean something and where there’s a real contest. And we can also see there are a few initiative campaigns that are drawing tens of millions of dollars that ordinarily wouldn’t be spent on politics. There’s a saying in the politics business that there’s only so much oxygen in the room. But this time out, it sure feels like this state is a hothouse.
“It’s not done,” said Lori Anderson, spokeswoman for the state Public Disclosure Commisson. “Sure, it’s big and it seems almost unbelievable. But we’ve still got a week to go to influence voters, and you’re going to see some big money coming in. It’s kind of mind-boggling what’s going on.”
Tuesday was the deadline for candidates and campaigns to file detailed expenditure reports with the state Public Disclosure Commission, the last such reports that will be filed before election day. The numbers don’t include congressional candidates, who file separately with the Federal Elections Commission. There are 157 million stories in those PDC reports. Here are the most striking ones.
ANOTHER BROKEN RECORD: Presidential years are always the biggest-spending years on the state level, because Washington elects statewide officers on the same four-year schedule. And even though there’s a week to go, this one already is a record-breaker. Four years ago, with all the same offices on the ballot, total spending was a measly $131 million, a record at the time. Eight years ago it was $105 million, also a record. And now those skinflints of yesteryear are being outdone by tens of millions of dollars. So what’s the difference? Close races, to be sure, but also the initiative campaigns. Last time around there really wasn’t much of anything to excite anyone, unless assisted suicide is your bag. That measure accounted for about two-thirds of the $9.5 million that was spent. This time around a much better rounded package of measures is being presented, with offerings to please a far more diverse crowd of big-spending interests. Total raised for this year’s crop of ballot measures is $35.5 million.
MARCH OF THE MOGULS: If you look at who’s spending what on this year’s initiatives, you’ll notice something interesting. The biggest money isn’t coming from corporations, it’s coming from people. This year’s charter-schools measure, I-1240, is largely backed by a who’s-who of education-minded moguls. They’re headed by Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Paul Allen, venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, the Wal-Mart Waltons and the Amazon Bezoses. Right now the fund-raising stands at $10.8 million. The big money seems to have scared off the usual suspects who oppose charter schools – labor unions, the Washington Education Association. Opponents have a teeny war-chest, just $677,000. But this one you don’t want to count out. The unions play a tough ground game, and they’re calling out the troops.
MORE MONEYBAGS: Same is true on the marijuana and gay-marriage measures. I-502 would make Washington the first state to legalize marijuana and thumb its nose at the feds. About half of its $6 million war-chest comes from just three people, Peter Lewis of Mayfield, Ohio, Thomas Cody Swift of Kirkland, and Edmonds travel guru Rick Steves. It might be running close to even in the polls, but the yes campaign is the only one with a budget for ads. Opponents have raised just $6,000, a thousand-to-one disadvantage. And on Referendum 74, which would reaffirm the gay-marriage bill passed by this year’s Legislature, you find some of the same names ponying up with enormous checks – Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft’s Gates and Steve Ballmer. They’re responsible for about a quarter of the $11.8 million raised.
FREE PASS FOR TWO-THIRDS RULE: About the only measure that runs to standard form this year is Initiative 1185, which would reaffirm the Legislature’s two-thirds vote requirement to pass tax increases. Most of the $1.4 million that has been raised for the campaign comes from business interests that would be the most likely targets for tax increases. And this is the interesting part. Only a few nickels have been raised since the measure qualified for the ballot in July, and it looks like this one is getting a free pass this time around. The usual opponents – labor unions and other interests that benefit from tax hikes – are putting up only a token fight, at $97,000. It might be that it is the fifth time the measure has appeared on the Washington ballot, and Washington voters have said yes every time, by increasingly big margins. Or just as likely, it’s that the Supreme Court heard a constitutional challenge from opponents in September, and they’re counting on the court to toss the rule once and for all before the Legislature comes back to town in January.
A QUARTER FOR THE GOVERNOR: There’s never been anything like this year’s race for governor, even in 2004, when there was an open seat, things came down to the wire and Democrat Christine Gregoire wound up beating Republican Dino Rossi by a whisker-thin 133 votes. That race was a dinky $12.5 million thing. This year Gregoire is leaving after two terms, and it’s Washington’s biggest-ever race. Polls are showing things down to the wire between Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna, and with the Democrats’s 28-year winning streak at stake, it’s all the more reason for special interests to shovel money into the furnace. A total $42.5 million has been raised. As of Tuesday night McKenna had raised $13.4 million and Inslee had raised $11.7 million. As Republicans like to point out, not all of that money was actually “raised.” Inslee has gotten about $3.3 million from the state Democratic Party and from transfers from his old congressional campaign account, while McKenna has gotten about $1.6 million from party and transfer sources.
But just as important here are the independent expenditures – $17 million so far. There’s no limit on the contributions to independent campaigns, as there are for contributions directly to candidates, so this is where the truly big money comes in. On the Democratic side, the Democratic Governors Association has joined with usual suspects – labor, teachers, trial lawyers – to funnel some some $9.1 million into a single political action committee, Our Washington. Which helps explain why they aren’t spending much to defeat charter schools and the two-thirds rule. The Our Washington campaign has about $1 million left in its chest.
On the Republican side, the Republican Governors Association has spent $7.5 million against Inslee. Because that money comes through an organization rather than a PAC, it doesn’t report individual contributions, so we can’t say for sure where it’s coming from. But this is where the big business checks go.
ATTORNEY GENERAL RACE HEATS TO BOIL: If you’ve been watching the ads, you know that Democrat Bob Ferguson and Republican Reagan Dunn each have skeletons in their closets roughly the size and shape of Willie Horton. Truth or fiction, the barrage of ads and an explosion of spending shows this race is a dead heat. Direct fund-raising is roughly even at $1.5 million apiece. But a huge chunk of money has been dropped into an independent campaign for Dunn by the Republican State Leadership Committee of Alexandria, Virginia, $2.9 million. Trial lawyers are backing an independent campaign for Ferguson to the tune of $847,000. You don’t need many guesses to figure out where the candidates stand on tort reform.
HEY, BIG SPENDER: It’s always interesting to see which candidates have the biggest bank accounts – and are willing to spend the money on themselves. Jack Connelly, running for an open Senate seat in Tacoma’s 27th Legislative District, is putting up $988,000 of his own money to finance a bit of Democrat-on-Democrat violence against state Rep. Jeannie Darneille. Democratic state Rep. Troy Kelley of Tacoma has blown $500,000 of his own money on his race for state auditor, normally a race that attracts little attention from contributors, giving him a big leg up over Republican James Watkins.
FOUR SENATE RACES TOP $1 MILLION: It’s easy to tell where the action is in this year’s legislative races – just follow the independent expenditures. Big money is flowing to 22 of this year’s 124 contests. And really, this is the easiest way to tell which races are hot and which ones are duds. If a special interest group can’t be convinced to pump out a flier calling one of the contestants a numbskull, well, then, it must not be very important.
In the Senate, where Democrats have a 27-22 advantage, it is technically possible for Republicans to overtake this year and change the balance of power – though a rather difficult task. Nevertheless, four races appear competitive and have attracted more than $1 million in contributions apiece.
The quick rundown:
1st District, north of Lake Washington, $1,078,000 total spending. The Washington Education Association is spending big to protect Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell. Stand for Children, an education reform group, is spending heavily to knock her out – and replace her with Republican Dawn McCravey.
5th District, east King County, $1,021,000 total spending. In a crazy and wide-open race triggered by Cheryl Pflug’s controversial exit from the Senate, Republican Brad Toft faces Democrat Mark Mullet.
10th District, Snohomish, Island and Skagit Counties, $1,161,000 total spending. Republican House member Barbara Bailey is challenging longtime transportation Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island.
17th District, Vancouver, $1,126,000 total spending. Democratic House member Tim Probst is challenging longtime Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver.
Other key Senate races include the Puyallup-area 25th, where Republican House Bruce Dammeier faces a token Democratic opponent for an open seat – an almost certain Republican pickup. There’s some interesting activity in East King County’s 41st, where freshman Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, faces Democrat Maureen Judge. Litzow has a big fund-raising advantage, $481,000 versus $146,000, but the usual D-team suspects have pumped $75,000 into independent expenditures against him. A sleeper race in Pierce County’s 2nd also bears watching, where Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville faces a challenge from Bruce Lachney.
HOUSE RACES: The House races are a bit harder to follow, because all 98 positions are on the ballot. But here are the ones with the biggest independent spending.
17th District, Vancouver, Tim Probst’s old seat: Republican Julie Olson has raised $175,000. Independent expenditures for are $121,000 and $120,000 against. Democrat Monica Stonier has raised $154,000. Independent expenditures are $60,000 for and $40,000 against.
25th District, Puyallup, Bruce Dammeier’s old seat: Former House Democrat Dawn Morrell has raised $232,000. Independent expenditures total $13,000 for, $54,000 against. Republican Shelly Schlumpf has raised $211,000. Independent expenditures total $101,000 for, $64,000 against.
28th District, Tacoma, Troy Kelley’s old seat: Republican Steve O’Ban has raised $193,000. Independent expenditures total $14,000 for, $178,000 against. Democrat Eric Choniere has raised $68,000. Independent expenditures total $12,000 for, $50,000 against.
28th District, Tacoma. State Rep. Tami Green has raised $150,000. Independent expenditures total $15,000 for, $19,000 against. Republican Paul Wagemann has raised $134,000. Independent expenditures total $19,000 for, $78,000 against.
30th District, Federal Way, Mark Miloscia’s old seat. Democrat Roger Flygare has raised $136,000. Independent expenditures total $9,000 for, $39,000 against. Republican Linda Kochmar has raised $138,000. Independent expenditures total $29,000 for, $46,000 against.
30th District, South King County. State Rep. Katrina Asay, R-Milton, has raised $156,000. Independent expenditures total $29,000 for, $39,000 against. Democratic challenger Roger Freeman has raised $107,000. Independent expenditures total $39,000 for, zero against.
35th District, Mason and Thurston counties. State Rep. Kathy Haigh has raised $173,000. Independent expenditures total $21,000 for, $16,000 against. Republican challenger Dan Griffey has raised $95,000. Independent expenditures total $56,000 for, $7,000 against.
35th District, Mason and Thurston counties, Fred Finn’s old seat. Republican Drew McEwen has raised $139,000. Independent expenditures total $71,000 for, $15,000 against. Democrat Lynda Ring-Erickson has raised $177,000. Independent expenditures total zero for, $37,000 against.
36th District, Seattle, an all-Democrat race. Gael Tarleton has raised $168,000 . Independent expenditures total $72,000 against. Noel Frame has raised $149,000. Independent expenditures total $26,000 for.