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Progressive Coalition Going All Out to Beat McKenna – Raises Nearly $1 Million for Independent Campaign in Governor’s Race

Sky’s the Limit for Contributions from SEIU, WEA, State Employees, Trial Lawyers and Democratic Governors Association

OLYMPIA, May 15.—A nearly $1 million war-chest has been amassed by big Democratic contributors hoping to beat Republican Rob McKenna in this year’s gubernatorial race – yet another sign that Washington has one of the hottest races going, and an indicator of a campaign that will be as merciless as they come.

A political action committee calling itself Our Washington has raised $855,320, most of it during the month of April. That’s according to the latest reports on file at the Washington state Public Disclosure Commission. Its paperwork indicates that it is targeting the governor’s race, and the list of contributors leaves no question which side it is on.

The coordinated effort includes $250,000 from the national Democratic Governors Association. Another $250,000 comes from the Washington Education Association, the state teacher’s union, which has endorsed Democrat Jay Inslee. The Service Employees International Union has put up $200,000. The trial lawyers’ Justice for All PAC has chipped in $100,000, and the Washington Federation of State Employees, $50,000.

It’s the biggest bankroll amassed so far by any independent campaign this season. The nearest is the Washington Education Association PAC, at $777,000. And it might not be right to compare the two, because WEA PAC provided the $250,000 in seed money that got the effort going.  There are no limits on contributions from special interest groups to independent campaigns.

So far there’s nothing like it on the Republican side.

Source of ‘War on Women’ Theme?

At the end of April, Our Washington had plenty of money in the bank – some $632,000, more than enough for a few rounds of attack ads come October and November.

The significance of the effort goes beyond that. The PAC has been operating under the radar since the beginning of the year. Until last month it hadn’t raised enough to attract public notice. But with that initial $250,000 contribution from WEA, the independent campaign spent heavily on message development. Big expenditures include $90,000 for The Mellman Group, a Washington, D.C. firm specializing in research and polling. The firm’s website boasts, “We know how to find the messages that lead people to vote for our client.” Records show $57,000 of that amount was spent on survey work.

Another $65,000 went to Tightline Strategies, a Democratic political consulting firm based in St. Louis.

And what did they come up with? That’s a matter of campaign strategy, of course, and hardly public information. But it is interesting to note that a new message has been sounded with increasing frequency over the last month by Democratic activists and interest groups, attempting to link McKenna to a “war on women.” Among other things, there has been an effort to raise abortion as an issue in the race – the vehicle being a bill that was opposed by statehouse Republicans this year that would have required insurers to cover abortion as part of maternity coverage.

In at least one sense the connection appears direct. The Our Washington campaign has been helping finance the activist organization FUSE Washington. FUSE got $37,060 in January from Our Washington for what is described as a “research retainer.” In previous election cycles, the Seattle-based activist organization has coordinated grass-roots campaign efforts for liberal candidates and causes. Most recently it has been publicizing a lawsuit filed by Seattle attorney Knoll Lowney against McKenna, which attacks the attorney general’s participation in a national lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. The suit contends McKenna’s position is an assault on women’s health care programs and a breach of legal ethics, and as a remedy it seeks that the state “correct its pleadings” in the case that has already been argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. The McKenna campaign calls the legal argument specious, and contends that the suit was filed for publicity reasons.

There’s nothing at all surprising about the independent Democratic campaign, says Erin McCallum, president of Enterprise Washington, an organization that raises money for business-oriented candidates. Washington’s top-two primary “empowered individual groups, including ours, and put both political parties kind of in the back seat,” she said. But she added that voters ought to be especially wary of “single-year” committees like Our Washington. “They have nice-sounding names, but if people start looking at the special interest groups behind them, they might be surprised.”