Representative Sharon Nelson is the prime sponsor of HB 1289. HB1289 would limit campaign contributions to candidates for public lands commissioner in Washington State from persons or entities that are regulated by, contract with, lease to or sell commodities to the public lands commissioner.
They could not “directly or indirectly pay or use, or offer or consent, or agree to pay or use any money or thing of value for or in aid of any candidate for the office of public lands commissioner: nor for reimbursement or indemnification of any person for money or property so used.”
The bill is patterned after a similar law limiting insurance companies from spending money for the State Insurance Commissioner race.
HB 1289 is proposed because a big loophole exists in Washington State’s campaign finance laws. They make a mockery of the supposed intent to limit special interest money in elections. This was evident in the 2008 race to elect the Washington State Public Lands Commissioner this last November.
Our current state law limits campaign contributions to a statewide candidate to $1600 for the Primary and $1600 for the General election. And on first look that appears to be what happened. If you check the contributions given to Republican incumbent Doug Sutherland’s campaign and to Democrat challenger Peter Goldmark’s campaign from individuals and corporations everything appears fine. None exceed $3200 total. Everyone seems to have an equal limit in their contributing money to try to influence the outcome of the election.
There is however no limit in Washington State on the amount of money that can be contributed to so called independent PAC’s supporting a candidate. And companies and individuals who benefited from contracts with the Department of Natural Resources repeated what they did 4 years previously in helping to get Sutherland re-elected then.
According to the Washington Public Disclosure reports they contributed lavishly to a PAC called the Committee for Balanced Stewardship. which spent some $573,000 on mailings to voters across the State urging them to re-elect Sutherland. The PAC was funded by contributions of a few special interests that benefited by receiving contracts from the DNR for timber harvest and other resource extraction like gravel. Their contributions greatly exceeded the $3200 they could have given if they contributed it directly to Sutherland. The companies that exceeded the $3200 limit are listed below:
Weyerhauser, Federal Way $100,000
Rayonier, Jacksonville, FL $75,000
Hampton Affiliates, Portland, OR $75,000
Glacier Northwest, Seattle, WA $50,000
Sierra Pacific Industries, Redding, CA $25,000
Green Diamond Resource Company, Shelton, WA $25,000
Longview Timber Company, Longview, WA $25,000
Green Crow, Port Angeles, WA $25,000
Murray Pacific, Tacoma, WA $20,000
Stimson Lumber Company, Portland, OR $20,000
Port Blakely Tree Farms, $20,000
Olympic Resource Management, Poulsbo, WA $15,000
Green Diamond Resource Company, Shelton, WA $12,500
Simpson, Tacoma, WA $12,500
M&R Services, Inc $5000
Vaughn Brothers, Colville, WA $5000
According to Brad Shanon of the Olympian, business interests objected to HB1289 at a recent hearing before the Legislature. No surprise there since they were the ones working the loophole to their advantage.
“It is an affront to the speech and participation rights of Washington businesses in the political process,” Kris Tefft of the Association of Washington Business said of the proposed bill. “It imposes content restrictions on one side of a political debate while leaving free rein on the other side.” …
The Washington Forest Protection Association and Washington Aggregates and Concrete Association also weighed in against the bill.”
The business conflict of interest was obvious in Sutherland’s granting Glacier Northwest the right to remove gravel from Maury Island in a marine protected area and his granting of geoduck rights to a company that used public tidelands that it hadn’t leased originally.
On Feb 10, 2009 Goldmark announced that he was going to review the lease granted to Glacier Northwest just before Sutherland left office. As noted by the Tacoma News Tribune:
“Goldmark said his staff will review whether the 30-year lease signed by Doug Sutherland with a subsidiary of Glacier Northwest is consistent with the long-term sustainability and health of Puget Sound.
“I have concerns about how this dock will impact the long-term sustainability and cleanup of Puget Sound,” Goldmark said. “When these leases are signed, Washingtonians expect due diligence, and we must review this deal to make sure it is in lockstep with the Puget Sound Partnership’s Action Plan.”
The lease allows the company to build a barge-loading pier on state aquatic lands in the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve.”
Washington state has at least several ways it can try to reduce the influence of independent special interest money in elections. HB 1289 of course is one approach to deal with a specific office. But independent expenditures by special interests are not limited to the Public Lands Commissioner race.
The BIAW (Building Industry Association of Washington) has spent enormous amounts of money trying to influence the outcome of specific elections, like the Washington State Supreme Court races, Governor, Attorney General and other races.
Other states limit such independent contributions to PACs. Here are some examples:
Alaska $500 per individual; corporations and unions prohibited
Connecticut $500/calendar year per individual, corporation or union
Massachusetts $500/calendar year; corporations and unions prohibited
Rhode Island $1000/calendar year; corporations and unions prohibited
South Carolina $3500/calendar year per individual, corporation, or union
Vermont $2000/2 year/election cycle per individual, corporation or union
West Virginia $1000/election; corporations and unions prohibited
You can check out the complete list of limitations on contributions to PACs by going to the National Conference of State Legislatures webpage .
Another way to try to limit the influence of independent contributions by PACs is to look at public financing of campaigns. See Washington Public Campaigns. They are pushing a bill this year in the Washington State legislature for public financing of Washington State Supreme Court races, arguing that” justice should not be for sale.”