In a better world, narrow special interest groups with truckloads of money on their hands wouldn’t be spending fortunes trying to shoe-horn their allies into high office.
We don’t live in that better world, as the race for governor painfully demonstrates.
Gov. Chris Gregoire has benefited from massive political donations from the Indian tribes with whom she negotiates gambling compacts. Now her Republican challenger, Dino Rossi, is enjoying an expensive ad campaign bought with tainted money from the Building Industry Association of Washington.
Democrats are making much of a phone call Rossi made in May 2007 to another developers’ interest group, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish counties. The allegation is that he was explicitly pressing the MBA to pour money into the BIAW’s war chest, to be used against Gregoire this year.
We’ll withhold judgment on that one. Both Rossi and the MBA say that the call in question was of a more general nature; so far, this amounts to a he said-she said dispute. In any case, Rossi hadn’t officially declared his candidacy for governor in the spring of 2007. Though he was running what was widely perceived as a shadow campaign, no state policy forbade him from talking to the MBA, one of his major supporters in the 2004 governor’s race.
Regardless, we’d like to see Rossi put a few miles of daylight between himself and the BIAW.
The BIAW has been a baleful presence in Washington politics for years. It skims royal sums off its members’ workers-compensation insurance rebates and uses the money to buy outsized political influence, typically with nasty campaign advertising. The state’s supreme court elections, for example, have been heavily politicized in part because of the riches this organization has spent on behalf of judicial candidates it hopes will spin the law to its liking.
This year, the BIAW’s political action committee – ChangePAC – has been barraging the state with ads that savage Gregoire. The organization appears to have played fast and loose with at least some of the money behind that barrage.
Washington’s Republican attorney general, Rob McKenna, has charged the BIAW with illegally taking more than a year to report $585,000 it had raised from the rebates. The money found its way to ChangePAC, apparently in violation of multiple election laws.
Rossi’s opponents allege that he was complicit in those violations. That charge requires a lot more evidence than we’ve seen so far. But campaign ethics require respect for the spirit as well as the letter of the law. Rossi would reassure a lot of people were he to join McKenna, his fellow Republican, in attacking the BIAW’s election practices.