OLYMPIA, Aug. 2.—During the last couple weeks of July, big interest groups like the state Labor Council and the Washington Education Association started pumping money into a handful of legislative races that will be affected by the Aug. 7 primary, according to the latest batch of campaign-finance reports. So now we know — war has really begun.
The reports also show Republican Rob McKenna is now way out in front of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee in the official fund-raising race. And there’s a big new $250,000 donation by the National Education Association to the separate independent campaign for Inslee.
Those are the most striking factoids buried in the latest reports filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission. Campaigns for political candidates had to turn in detailed expense reports Tuesday, covering the period from July 17 to July 30. And maybe this won’t come as a surprise. All the independent efforts commenced on July 17 or in the days immediately following — which meant the previous batch of expense reports didn’t tip anybody’s hand.
Independent Inslee Campaign Now at $2.65 Million
With the contribution from the NEA, the independent campaign for Inslee, “Our Washington,” has now raised $2.65 million. The campaign is backed by the big-spending groups that normally can be counted on to support Democratic candidates. They include NEA’s state affiliate, the Washington Education Association, as well as the state Labor Council, the Service Employees International Union, the Federation of State Employees and the trial lawyers’ political action committee, Justice for all. Far and away the biggest contributor remains the Democratic Governors Association at $1.25 million. There’s not much secret about the goal: Finance reports indicate that the group has reserved $3.2 million in television airtime. So far the committee has spent $320,000, meaning that there’s some $900,000 left to raise. So the question becomes – who’s going to pony up?
Meanwhile, there are reports of an independent effort on the Republican side – talk among ad buyers is that the Republican Governors Association has reserved some $3.2 million of ad time. The reservation doesn’t show up in the expense report filed by the Republican Governors Association PAC in this state for the month of July, however. That PAC was formed July 17 and has just $10,000 in the kitty.
McKenna Has $300,000 Advantage
As far as the official gubernatorial campaigns go, McKenna surpassed Inslee’s fund-raising total two weeks ago and now is far in the lead. McKenna, the state attorney general, was prevented from raising money for four and a half months due to a law that prohibits political fund-raising by lawmakers and statewide elected officials while the Legislature is in session. Inslee, a former congressman, faced no such restriction. Now McKenna’s campaign has raised $7,364,797 to Inslee’s $7,057,830 – a better than $300,000 advantage.
What’s worth knowing here is that there are strict limits for most contributions made directly to candidates. Most contributions are limited to $3,600 — $1,800 in the primary and $1,800 in the general election. So here big-spending interest groups aren’t so important. What counts is the number of individuals and businesses willing to write a medium-size check. McKenna has been doing considerably better with contributors in that range. And McKenna’s advantage is greater than total numbers indicated. Inslee’s account has been bolstered by $1.2 million in contributions from the state Democratic Party, one of the few organizations permitted to make large donations; the Republican Party, meanwhile, has given nothing to McKenna. Inslee’s numbers also include $600,000 in transfers from his congressional campaign account. McKenna transferred about $100,000 from his previous attorney general campaign.
It also appears that Inslee burned through a wad of cash for an early-July ad campaign that may have boosted his poll numbers a month before the primary. He has about $4 million left; McKenna has $4.5 million.
There’s a big issue on the horizon for both candidates: After the Aug. 7 primary, the maximum contribution will be $1,800. So it will become much more difficult for Inslee to make up the difference.
Labor, WEA Active in Legislative Races
Since the last report on July 17, the state labor council and the teacher’s union have gotten busy in a handful of legislative races. In most of those cases, there’s something at stake in the primary.
The biggest spending is taking place in the 1st Legislative District, north of Lake Washington, where Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, a 20-year ally of the Washington Education Association, faces challenges from Democrat Guy Palumbo and Republican Dawn McCravey. WEA has spent $43,600 for mailers and a cable-TV ad supporting McAuliffe. Other labor contributions are being funneled through a local PAC called Working Families for the 1st — $55,962 so far. Its money comes from the state Labor Council, the Federation of State Employees and the Roosevelt Fund, the Senate Democrats’ soft-money campaign PAC.
Also in the 1st, WEA has put up $21,932 for state Rep. Derek Stanford, D-Bothell – a member who curiously is assured advancement to the general election because he faces only one opponent.
In the Olympia-based 35th District, where four candidates are running to replace retiring state Rep. Fred Finn, the Labor Council, the federation and SEIU have put $50,510 behind Jefferson Davis. Consider it a snub to fellow Democrat Lynda Ring-Erickson.
Caucuses in the Act
We also can see some direct action by some of the Legislature’s political-party caucuses. In that 1st District Senate race, we can see that the Senate Democrats’ Roosevelt Fund put up $20,000 to defend McAuliffe. On the other hand, the Senate Republicans’ soft-money fund, the Leadership Council, is spending money to defeat her. It routed $45,000 to a PAC called the Good Government Leadership Council, and that PAC in turn reports spending $8,500 against McAuliffe. Reports get a bit confusing at this stage of the game, but they seem to indicate at least one mailer has gone out against McAuliffe.
In the 17th District, where state Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, is challenging state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, we can see another independent campaign getting qued up for action. The Senate Democrats’ soft-money committee has routed $20,000 to a PAC called Working Families for the 17th, and the House Democrats’ Harry Truman Fund has contributed $5,000. So far it has paid for two hit pieces on Benton.
Other Independent Expenditures
A handful of other groups are backing independent campaigns in the primary. In the crowded Seattle race to replace state Rep. Bob Hasegawa, who is making a bid for the Senate, business and ed reform groups are putting their money on Democrat Stephanie Bowman. Enterprise Washington has put $28,128 into the campaign; Stand for Children, $18,748; the League of Education Voters, $19,269. Bowman may need the assist. There are five candidates in the race, and one of them, Bobby Virk, has raised more money than any other House candidate so far this year, $290,217. Virk’s base of support is in the East-Indian community.
Meanwhile, there’s a smaller-scale independent scrap in Seattle’s 46th District, for the House seat being vacated by Phyllis Gutierrez-Kenney. There are an astounding six candidates in the running. The Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund is backing Democrat Jesslyn Farrell to the tune of $6,700. The Washington Alliance for Green Jobs – a union-backed PAC – is backing Democrat Dusty Hoerler with $9,850. The other seat in that district is held by state Rep. Gerald Pollett, D-Seattle, who is being challenged by Sylvester Cann. Cann is the beneficiary of independent expenditures from the League of Education Voters and Democrats for Education Reform for a total $12,173.