Right Wing PAC Begins Assault on Washington State Supreme Court

Thought you saw the last of former Washington State Senator Slade Gorton? Or the last of former Washington State Attorney General Ken Eikenberry? Well guess again.

Slade Gorton has re-emerged as Chairman of the Constitutional Law PAC – a right wing Political Action Committee recently formed here in Washington State. Ken Eikenberry is the Vice-Chairman. I believe that is “Vice” as second in command but the purpose of the PAC is really to steal the Washington State Supreme Court from the voters by trying to buy the elections of the next Justices.

Am I serious? Well yes! The Constitutional Law PAC is part of the Right Wing’s attempt to muscle their way into the┬ájudicial system. They are doing it across the country by pumping conservatives’ dollars into select right wing candidates in judicial races.. And they have been successful.

The assault is not new. For example, as People for the American Way reported, a vigorous attempt was made in a number of states in 2000, including Florida, Alabama,Idaho, Vermont, and Massachusetts. . This is a part of the conservative Republicans national attempt to take over the courts from the ground up, not just the US Supreme Court.

The formation of a right wing judicial PAC in Washington state was first reported by Neil Modie in the Seattle P.I. on Nov 25, 2005. Paperwork has since been filed with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission. Alex Mays has been hired as Executive Director and they have started collecting donations.

In today’s edition of the Seattle PI Neil Modie continues the reporting on this issue with a story entitled “Political Spending Cap May Backfire” With the Washington State Legislature’s just passing SSB 1226 to limit campaign contributions by individuals to state judicial candidate’s committees, the reality remains that individuals can give whatever they want to PAC’s that spend money ‘independently” on judicial races.

As we have already pointed out, most recently in our blog on March 7, 2006, entitled “Campaign Contribution Limits – Job Half Done”, the Washington State legislature only did half of the job in trying to limit special interest influence in our elections in Washington State. By not setting any kind of limits on contributions to PAC’s they are now a giant loophole.

There is a simple solution to the problem. Extend the $1400 maximum campaign contribution total by an individual per election to a candidate to include contributions made either directly to the candidate’s campaign committee or indirectly to a PAC or any other campaign entity spending money for the candidate.

Money spent against a candidate shall be attributed as a contribution to the candidate’s opponent and also limited to a maximum of $1400 per election. If both a primary and general election is involved a total of $2800 is allowed.

Its simple and its fair. And know what, we wouldn’t be the first state to do it. And what I have suggested is not the only way to go. Most states that limit contributions to PAC’s do so without regard to whether or not a PAC supports multiple candidates. They limit contributions to PACs period.

Here are a few examples of other state’s limits on contributions to PAC’s as reported on the National Conference of State Legislature’s website:

Alaska $1000/year, only 10% of a PAC’s contributions from non-Alaska residents
California $5600/election
Colorado $500/2-year election cycle
Florida $500/election to political committee
Hawaii $1000/election
Kentucky $1500/year in the aggregate to all committee/year
Massachusetts $500/calendar year: lobbyist $200/calendar year
New York PAC’s limited to same contributions as candidates
Vermont $2000/2 year election cycle

Washington unlimited

Unlike Washington, some other states have limited the transfer of money between PAC’s, a technique used in 2004 by the Building Industry Association of Washington ( BIAW) to conceal names of contributors as thousands of dollars shuffled between several BIAW controlled PAC’s. Alaska limits PAC to PAC contributions to $500/2 year election cycle, Florida $500/election and Massachusetts $500/calendar year to mention a few examples..

Some states also limit contributions from corporations to PAC’s, unlike Washington.

Florida limits such corporate contributions to $500; Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina and North Dakota prohibit corporate and union contributions to PAC’s.

The Washington State Legislature needs to address the problems with PAC’s in its next session next year. In the meantime PAC’s would be wise to be fair and abide by current campaign contribution limits to candidate committees and do the same for their PAC.

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