The race for Public Lands Commissioner in Washington State is over. Democrat Peter Goldmark has been declared the winner by the Associated Press. He ousted 8 year incumbent Republican Doug Sutherland.
The latest returns on the Secretary of State’s election site posted at 10:16 AM today show the race still tight. Goldmark leads with 1,059,007 votes (50.85%) to Sutherland’s 1,023,553 votes (49.15%). The difference is some 35,454 votes.
Goldmark out raised his opponent $1,055,464 to $601,351. However special interests like Weyerhauser gave money to the so-called independent PAC- the Committee for Balanced Stewardship to raise an additional $573,000 to support Sutherland.
This allowed Weyerhauser to skirt normal campaign contribution limits of $1600 per election for a candidate for statewide offices and contribute $100,000 to support Sutherland’s candidacy.
In addition the independent PAC – Realtor’s Quality of Life spent $28,780 to support Sutherland.
Contributions directly to a candidate’s committee are limited to $1600 per election or a total of $3200 for both the primary and general election. This is supposedly to reduce the influence of large money in campaigns but the loophole of unlimited contributions to independent PAC’s show how easy it is to skirt this limit.
The Washington Governor’s race also saw huge spending by so called independent PACs. The BIAW through it’s PACs contributed over $7 million to unsuccessfully try to defeat Democratic Governor Gregoire.
Both the Governor’s race and Public Lands Commissioner race were wins for Democrats being hit with huge amounts of special interest money. There is a real question that if Barack Obama had not been on the ballot as to whether or not these Democrats would still have won. The closeness of the two races raises the issue, particularly since some analysts are saying national issues affected many local races this year and that this may be a trend. Certainly the uniqueness and turnout of the Presidential race was a factor.
The idea of trying to limit the influence of huge amounts of special interest money going to PACs in Washington State is a legitimate issue to raise. The diluting by unlimited special interest contributions of the voice of those who abide by campaign spending limits is something that needs to be addressed in Washington State.
The National Conference of State Legislatures has done an analysis of state limitations on contributions to political action committees and the result is interesting. Here are some of the limits for individuals giving to PACs:
Alaska $500/yr, Arkansas $5000/yr, California $6000/election, Colorado $500/2 year cycle, Connecticut, $2000/yr, Florida $500/election, Hawaii $1000 election, Kentucky $1500/yr, Louisiana $100,000/4 yr cycle, Maryland, $4000/4 yr cycle, Massachusetts $500/year, New Hampshire $5000/election, New Jersey $7200/yr, North Carolina $4000/election, Ohio $10,670/yr, Oklahoma $5000 yr, Rhode Island $1000/yr, South Carolina $3500/yr, Vermont $2000/2 yr cycle
Meanwhile Washington State allows unlimited money from an individual to go to a PAC. Our only limit is that during the last 21 days before an election, no contributor may donate more than $5000 to a candidate or political committee.
The other limit some states impose on contributions to PACs is to limit corporate and union contributions. These include:
Alabama $500/election, Arkansas $5000/calender yr, California $6000/election, Connecticut $2000/calendar year, Florida $500/election, Hawaii $1000/election, Indiana $5000 state candidates, Louisiana $100,000 4 yr cycle, Maryland $4000/4 yr cycle, Mississippi $1000/calendar year, New Hampshire $5000/election, New Jersey $7200/yr, New York $5000 total/yr, South Carolina $3500/calendar yr, and Vermont $2000//2 yr cycle.
Meanwhile Washington State allows unlimited corporate and union contributions to PACs with the 21 day rule exception above limiting contributions to no more than $5000 in the last 21 days before an election.
Going even further, a number of states ban all corporate and union contributions to PACs including Alaska, Arizona, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
We can do things differently in Washington State. While the US Supreme Court has overturned strict spending limits, they have agreed that reasonable limits on contributions are acceptable.
Equalizing corporate and union and individual contributions to PACs to be the same limits as those to candidate campaign committees seems a reasonable way to reduce the influence of special interests with huge bankrolls from overwhelming the voice of individual voters.
A limit of $1600 to contributions to candidate campaign committees and independent PACs per election would help stop the flood of special interest contributions trying to outshout the voices of individual citizens engaging in the electoral process.
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.
In a press release earlier today, Knoll Lowney of Smith & Lowney stated that:
“Today, lawyers for gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi indicated that Rossi will fight the subpoena that requires him to testify under oath as to his role in the illegal fundraising campaign of the Building Industry Association of Washington(“BIAW”), which is currently being prosecuted by the State Attorney General. “
You can catch the current King 5 news report here on YouTube.
You can see last week’s King 5 news reports here.
Lowney noted that a separate lawsuit was filed last week by former Washington State Supreme Justices Faith Ireland and Robert F. Utter regarding Republican Rossi’s alleged collaboration with the BIAW’s massive fundraising effort to swing the Governor’s race in favor of Republican Rossi.
The BIAW has a war chest of $3.5 million which it is spending opposing incumbent Democratic Governor Christine Gregoire and supporting Republican Dino Rossi. Under state law contributions directly to candidates are limited to $1600 per election for state wide office.
No such limit apples unfortunately for so-called independent PAC’s which is what the BIAW is claiming their PAC’s like ChangePAC and It’s Time for a Change are. But independent means just that – there can be no collaboration between the candidate and the so-called independent committee.
The irony here is that the BIAW actually asked for an interpretation of what independent meant in 2004. The answer seems pretty clear. In a memorandum dated June 15, 2004, written by Susan Harris, Assistant Director of the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission she stated a no answer to the following:
Tim Harris, General Counsel for BIAW, has asked whether a candidate may solicit funds for a political committee (PAC) that would make independent expenditures in support of that candidate, if the candidate:
(1) has no say with respect to the spending of the PAC or other content of the message;
(2) would not encourage or approve the actual specific expenditure; and
(3) would not otherwise collaborate with any PAC officials regarding the expenditure?
Staff believes the answer to the question is no. Not all of the elements of an Independent Expenditure as defined in RCW 42.17.020(24)(a) could be satisfied.
….., the definition of “independent expenditure” includes a four part test in RCW 42.17.020(24)(a). Each of the four parts must be met in order for the expenditure to satisfy the definition. The circumstances posed by BIAW fail two of the four parts.
Specifically, subdivision (iii) requires that the spender not be a person who has received the candidate’s “encouragement,” and subdivision (iv) says the candidate and the spender may not have “collaborated for the purpose of making the expenditure,” when the expense pays for political advertising supporting that candidate or opposing that candidate’s opponent.
Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary defines “encourage” as: “1. To inspire with hope, courage or confidence: HEARTEN; 2. To give support to: FOSTER; 3. To stimulate.”
One of the most fundamental ways a candidate could encourage a person to purchase political advertising supporting that candidate is to help make sure that person has sufficient funds to undertake an effective advertising effort. Assisting a PAC in fundraising fosters that committee’s ability to make the political advertising expenditure benefiting the candidate. As such, the PAC expenditure is not sufficiently removed from the candidate to qualify as an independent expenditure.
Collaborate” is defined in Webster’s as: 1. To work together, esp. in a joint intellectual effort; 2. To cooperate treasonably, as with an enemy occupying one’s country.
Staff is of the opinion that if a candidate solicits contributions for a PAC by, for example, referring potential contributors to the committee, putting a link to the PAC’s website on his or her campaign website, or referencing the PAC in his or
her own campaign literature, then the candidate and the PAC are working together for the purpose of making a political advertising expenditure. That collaboration disqualifies any resulting expenditure from the definition of independent expenditure.
Based on a reasonable application of the definition of independent expenditure that is consistent with the intent of the statute, staff is recommending the Commission find that if a candidate assists a PAC in fundraising and the PAC then undertakes political advertising supporting that candidate or promoting the defeat of that candidate’s opponent, that expenditure does not satisfy the definition of “independent expenditure.”
Examples of fundraising assistance include helping the PAC identify potential contributors, referring potential contributors to the PAC, and referencing the PAC on the candidate’s website or in his or her literature.
If the BIAW and Rossi had complied with this memo they would not be in court now. My guess is that the BIAW decided to ignore this memorandum, realizing they could spend millions of dollars supporting Rossi and the worst they would face would be a fine of a few thousand dollars. The cost of trying to skirt the laws and put Republican Rossi in the Governor’s seat would be a pittance compared to what the BIAW would gain by having their ally as Governor..
Maybe the Court should fine them the total amount of their illegal campaign spending. That would certainly get their attention.
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.
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 email@example.com 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.
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
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