Tag Archives: independent campaign contributions

Legislature Should Act to Limit Special Interest Money in Elections

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.”

Rossi would give BIAW a State Supreme Court Seat

So how do you reward your biggest benefactor? How about a seat on the Washington State Supreme Court? The BIAW (Building Industry Association of Washington) has now spent some $7 million dollars through its so called independent PAC called “It’s Time for a Change” to try to elect GOP (AKA Republican) Dino Rossi Governor this year. This money has been spent both supporting Dino Rossi and opposing Governor Chris Gregoire.

In past years the BIAW has spent a huge amount of money trying to get their selected candidates unto the Washington State Supreme Court so that they can weaken state environmental and land use laws and regulations.

In 2004 they succeeded in getting Jim Johnson elected as a Supreme Court Justice by helping him out raise his opponent Mary Kay Becker by $539,000 to her $157,000.

In 2006 they threw their support behind their candidates Stephen L Johnson to run against Justice Susan Owens and John Groen against Chief Justice Gerry Alexander.

They funnelled their money through their independent PAC’s like It’s Time for a Change and ChangePAC so that they could avoid the new limits set for contributions to candidate committees to include the State Supreme Court races for the first time.

The BIAW set new state records in campaign spending in the Washington State Supreme Court races via their independent expenditures. Groen saw some $1,356,000 spent independently on his behalf and Stephen Johnson saw some $532,000 spent in so called independent expenditures. Despite this record spending and probably because of it, the BIAW’s effort backfired and alerted the state’s voters to their blatant attempt to buy seats on the Washington State Supreme Court.

Justices Owens and Alexander won re-election.

The BIAW is concentrating their efforts this year in trying to get Dino Rossi elected Governor and have spent over $7 million dollars so far in their efforts.

Judge Alexander will reach the mandatory retirement age before his 6 year term expires. He was 70 in 2006 and is now 72 years old. In three years he will be 75.

As noted in the PI,“the statutory retirement age of 75 will require Alexander to leave the court at the end of 2011, a year before his six-year term expires. The governor then would appoint a successor who would have to run for election in 2012.”

Sure its a couple of years down the line and there will be 3 more Supreme Court races up in 2010, but it is just another example of the power one has as Governor. If Rossi is elected Governor he will have at least one Supreme Court appointment for sure and you know it will be a payback to friends.

Rossi in fact note the importance of the power of appointments as Governor. In an article in the Tacoma News Tribune, it is stated that Rossi“vows to change the “tone and tenor” of state government through the power of appointments. If he’s elected governor, Rossi says he will get to appoint 1,000 people “from Blueberry Commission on up.”

One of those positions would be a Washington State Supreme Court Justice.

Timber Interests Plan Last Minute Half Million Dollar Blitz Against Peter Goldmark

Peter Goldmark is the Democrat running for Public Lands Commissioner in Washington State. According to the latest Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) reports Peter Goldmark has out raised his Republican opponent Doug Sutherland, the incumbent, $841,775 to $578,052. Goldmark’s fundraising is impressive considering that about 50% of Sutherland’s money is coming from timber and mining interests.

But lurking in the shadows is an independent PAC called the Committee for Balanced Stewardship. It has a war chest totalling $594,910. In 2004 this same committee spent over $322,000 doing last minute mailers supporting Doug Sutherland’s campaign for Public Lands Commissioner. Sutherland won that race against Mike Cooper.

The Committee for Balanced Stewardship is going to again spend all its money to try to re-elect Sutherland. But something is wrong when a special interest PAC comprised of mostly timber interests is raising more money to support the candidate than the candidate is raising.

And to top things off many of these timber and mining interests are giving to both campaign committees. Over half of the contributions to Sutherland campaign are from timber and mining interests.

Contributions directly to Sutherland’s campaign are limited to $1600 per election (primary and general are separate elections). But the same contributor giving money to a PAC like the so called Committee for Balanced Growth can contribute as much as they want to try to influence the outcome of the election.

That’s why you’ll see Weyerhauser has given Sutherland’s campaign $1400 but has also given the Committee for Balanced Stewardship $100,000. So much for limiting the influence of big money in elections. As long as the loophole exists that money given to a so-called independent PAC has no limits, companies like Weyerhauser will use their corporate dollars to try to disproportionately influence the outcome of the election to get their candidate elected.

This loophole gives big money interests that stand to profit from the election of their candidate a decided and unfair advantage in trying to influence the outcome of the election. Regular donors who give directly to the candidate, see their ability to affect the outcome of the election diminished.

The loophole as written for no limits on contributions to independent PAC’s says if you are wealthy or have corporate money to spend, you have a huge advantage in trying to affect the outcome of the election by your greater ability to reach the voters with your message.

So who is basically skirting campaign contributions limits to Sutherland by giving to the so-called independent PAC. Here’s the list of corporate interests donating to the Committee for Balanced Stewardship that is trying to keep Republican Sutherland in office:

Weyerhauser, Federal Way,WA $100,000

Hampton Affiliates, Portland, OR $75,000

Rayonier, Jacksonville, FL $75,000

Glacier NW, Port Angeles, WA $50,000

Green Crow, Port Angeles, WA $25,000

Sierra Pacific Industries, Redding, CA $25,000

Port Blakely Tree Farms, Tumwater, WA $20,000

Stimson Lumber Co, Portland, OR $20,000

Longview Timber Co, Longview, WA $25,000

Green Diamond, Shelton, WA $25,000

Olympic Resource Mgt, Poul;sbo, WA $15,000

Simpson, Tacoma, WA $12,500

Murray Pacific, Tacoma, WA $20,000

Vaagen Brothers, Colville, WA $5000

With the Committee for Balanced Stewardship’s money and Sutherland’s campaign money, timber and mining interests will comprise about 3/4 of the money spent to try to re-elect Doug Sutherland. They want to keep their cozy relationship with the current Commissioner of Public Lands. All the more reason to vote for Peter Goldmark. Public lands should be for public good not private gain.


Contributions to Washington PAC’s Need to be Limited

Tuesday’s Primary in Washington State brought into focus a number of things that need changing in campaign finance law. The major change needed is to limit all contributions trying to affect the election to the same amount per person, whether going directly to the candidate or indirectly to any PAC trying to help the candidate.

In terms of trying to affect the outcome of the election it doesn’t matter where the money goes.
Its all being used to try to elect the same person.

The Legislature needs to end this current loophole in campaign financing. They made an effort earlier this year to try to limit huge spending in judicial races but they left this huge loophole by not also limiting contribution amounts to so called “independent” PAC’s.

We like to talk of the equality we all share in elections , that one person has one vote. We’re equal, right. Wrong – as long as some people, groups, associations can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money trying to affect the outcome of an election, we are in no way equal.

The Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) in spending a million dollars to try to anoint their own lawyer, John Groen, to the Washington State Supreme Court, vividly points out just how unequal we are in the election process.

While voters wisely appear to have rejected Groen in this election as someone beholden to a single special interest, it took a huge effort to get the word out on what was happening. And unfortunately the BIAW appears unapologetic in their belief that it is ok for them to try to buy an election with their huge financial advantage in reaching voters.

They did it 2 years ago in giving a huge financial advantage to James Johnson who won his race for Supreme Court Justice against Mary Kay Becker. They also gave huge contributions to help get libertarian Jim Saunders elected to the Court. And they came close this year to electing their third candidate.

While individuals are limited by the new law to giving judicial candidates for Supreme Court $1400 per election, they still can give an unlimited amount to an “independent” PAC to try to affect the outcome of the race. Expect to see more large contributions in the BIAW’s efforts to get Steve Johnson elected in November over sitting Justice Susan Owens.

The key change needed is to equalize one’s ability to influence the election with money, just as we equalize how many votes we each have to one when we cast a ballot. The key to doing this is to say everyone has the ability to give money up to $1400 per person to either the candidate’s committee directly or indirectly to any other PAC, association or other entity trying to influence the outcome of the election.

The BIAW will now shift its focus by trying to kick Susan Owens off the Court by helping to elect Steve Johnson in November. They will again not limit contributions they accept.

The BIAW is not alone in this. A front group calling itself Americans Tired of Lawsuit Abuse based in Virginia contributed $400,000 it it’s newly created Washington State PAC to support Groen.

Two years ago the US Chamber of Commerce spent $1.5 million trying to defeat Deborah Senn who was running against Rob McKenna for Washington State’s Attorney General. McKenna won

The BIAW spent hundreds of thousands of dollars independently in this race supporting McKenna and opposing Senn.

Votes decide elections and dollars help reach voters and persuade them. One person, one vote is only part of the election equation. One person, one vote means nothing if special interests can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money. What everyone including PAC’s, corporation, associations need to do is abide by a $1400 per person limit to be fair to Washington’s voters.

Text of PDC Complaint Filed Against Groen Supporters by Majority Rules Blog

Join the following complaint today against John Groen backers violating Washington State ‘s Public Disclosure laws. Just e-mail the PDC Executive Director and ask that your name be added to the complaint filed against Americans Tired of Lawsuit Abuse filed by Steve Zemke of Majority Rules Blog. The e-mail address is vrippie@pdc.wa.gov Please note in the comments thread below that you have done so. Thanks.

Sept. 13, 2006
To Vicki Rippie – Executive Director
Phil Stutzman – Director of Compliance
Jane Noland – Chair

Dear Public Disclosure Commission:

I would like to file the following complaint with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission. An out of state PAC named Americans Tired of Lawsuit Abuse -WA has filed a C1PC with you and has reported receiving some $400,000 in contributions but then lists its source literally as coming from itself, namely Americans Tired of Lawsuit Abuse, which is filed with the Virginia Board of Elections which doesn’t require any reporting until Oct.15, 2006.

I believe that Americans Tired of Lawsuit Abuse is really a PAC of a Washington DC Association called the American Tort Reform Coalition. But in the C1PC filed with you, which asks “If committee is related or affiliated with a business or association, union or similar entity, specify name” it leaves this blank and does not respond other than to name itself again with the WA missing.

Besides a Cari O’Malley, it lists no other PAC committee officers’ names or title. $400,000 is a lot of money to just come from nowhere. I believe this whole filing is a pretty patent intent to hide the true source of the funds being spent against Chief Justice Gerry Alexander and for John Groen. By my best estimation over $1.35 million is being spent by Groen’s campaign committee and others PAC’s supporting his election as of now.

This record spending, particularly by out of state interests, deserves to be accurately reported. Because the Washington State Liability Reform Coalition, the local state coalition affiliated with the American Tort Reform Coalition, includes members like the Building Industry Association of Washington (which is itself spending hundreds of thousands of dollars against Alexander) and the Washington State Restaurant Association (both a member the local and national group of the American Tort Reform Coalition) , there is the possibility of funds going from Washington State to the American Tort Reform Coalition and back to Washington State via Americans Tired of Lawsuit Abuse.

Because of what happened in the Deborah Senn and Rob McKenna race for Attorney General race, where about $1.5 million was spent against in the same manner as here and eventually revealed as coming from the US Chamber of Commerce, I believe you need to require that Americans Tired of Lawsuit Abuse immediately report to you their source of funding and that you announce it to the press.

The fact is that the US Chamber of Commerce is one of the members of another coalition run out of the American Tort Reform Coalition’s Office raises concern. Maybe they are involved again.

I believe you need to investigate, because of the associations involved and the attempt to conceal the true sponsors of this stealth PAC, whether any money has been funneled from Washington State to conceal its origins.

Because this race will be decided next Tuesday, Sept 19th, 2006, I urge that you act as quickly as possible to provide the voters of Washington State with the best possible disclosure you can regarding who is spending money in this race.

And I urge that appropriate fines be levied for any violations and infractions of Washington State Law.

Steve Zemke

The following blog posts are added as supporting this complaint:

See: Groen Supporters Violate Public Disclosure in their Intent to Deceive and Hide who they are.

Record $1.3 million Spent so far to Elect Groen to Washington State Supreme Court http://www.majorityrules.org/blog/2006/09/record-13-million-spent-so-far-to.html

Record $1.3 Million Spent so far to Elect Groen to Washington State Supreme Court.

Breaking all records, reported campaign contributions and spending to elect John Groen to the Washington State Supreme Court now exceeds $1,294,608. Over half a million dollars ($557,980) alone has been spent by by the BIAW (Building Industry Association of Washington) and PAC’s it controls.

The BIAW and other special interest groups are trying to defeat current Supreme Court Justice Gerry Alexander. Groen is running on a program of defending developer interests over those of individual property owners and comunities. The BIAW is trying to elect their third Supreme Court Justice that represents their special interests. Previously they were the main spenders to elect James Johnson and Richard Saunders to the Court.

The latest large contribution to join the Groen effort is a reported out of state $320,000 from a so called independent PAC based in Alerxander , VA called Americans Tired of Lawsuit Abuse. They are spending it on TV ads. Joel Connelly in an article in the Seattle PI today said the address given for the PAC is that of the American Tort Reform Association. See also the Seattle Times and Justice at Stake

A phone call to their local phone number listed at an address in Redmond said that the local contact number was for the Liability Reform Coalition. They are listed with the PDC as having spent $244,277 in 2005 doing grassroots lobbying. They referred me back to ATLA when I asked who they represented, saying they were only a local contact.

The following figures are taken from the latest Public Disclosure Commission records in Olympia WA and analysis reported by a new website called VotingforJudges.org . They have done a much better job of compiling independent expenditures and contributions for the judicial races than has the PDC website, which has been slow on getting information and reports updated.

In fact I think that the PDC should be embarrassed in their half hearted effort to provide the public with updated and current information on contributions and expenditures done by so called independent PAC’s. They have done some excellent groupings of data to help the public understand who is getting and spending money by candidate committees but their reporting on independent contributions and expenditures is woefully incomplete and not timely at all. Many independent committees are not even listed in their summary reports of contributions and expenditures..

The primary election on Sept 19th will decide the Alexander/Groen race as well as the race between Supreme Court Justice Tom Chambers and his challenger Jeanette Burrage. People across the state have already received their absentee ballots and are voting. A up to date and timely analysis of contributions and independent expenditures is most helpful to voters before the election, not after it is over.

The fact that the Washington State Legislature did not extend their contribution limits legislation to include PAC’s is a giant loophole that needs to be corrected. It allows special interests to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence a race. Current spending for Groen sets a new record for spending in Washington State Supreme Court races. So called independent PAC’s are far outspending Groen’s official campaign committee.

Below is a listing of money raised and spent to try to put Groen on the Supreme Court. I am using expenditure figures for Groen based on www.votingforjudges.org since the posted PDC data is not current. I have updated the Groen campaign committee information based on more current C-3 reports on the PDC website.

Groen campaign committee contributions to date 9/10 /2006 ……….$409,608

Americans Tired of Lawsuit Abuse 9/8/06 supporting Groen …………..$80,000
opposing Gerry Alexander………………………………………………. $240,000

Building Industry Association of Washington……………………………..$99,603

Central Washington Home Builders Association……………………………. $5931

Committee for Judicial Restraint………………………………………….. $1140

Walking for Washington (1/2 of doorbelling/canvassing effort) ……….$167,000
(canvass/doorbelling effort for John Groen & Steve Johnson)

It’s Time for a Change ………………………………………………………………………$291,377

Total reported so far……………………………………………. $1,294,659