A local campaign being waged at community fairs and chambers of commerce has drawn the attention of Big Tobacco, Big Beer and a San Francisco billionaire fighting global warming.
Those interests may not claim Washington’s 26th District as their home, but they are competing all the same to win votes in Gig Harbor, Port Orchard and Bremerton.
Out-of-state money is a big part of the funding that has fueled about $400,000 worth of independent spending in the state Senate race with seven weeks to go. The candidates, Rep. Jan Angel and Sen. Nathan Schlicher, have spent slightly more but with a much larger share of their contributions coming from within Washington.
The biggest players in the race from outside the Pacific Northwest include national Republican and Democratic groups, companies such as Altria Client Services and MillerCoors and, by far the largest contributor, California environmentalist Thomas Steyer.
“We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars in an obscure legislative race in Washington state,” said Susan Hutchison, the new chairwoman of the state Republican Party, which has been questioning Steyer’s interest in Washington politics. “You just have to wonder.”
Regarding the donors to the Republican effort, Hutchison’s Democratic counterpart, Dwight Pelz, does more than wonder.
“The Koch brothers-ALEC axis out there has realized that by controlling statehouses they can get a lot done,” Pelz said, referring to the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has ties to the industrialist Koch Brothers and many large corporations. “For example, they can gerrymander congressional districts and control the U.S. House.”
Pelz said in a year without many elections nationally, national interests may be drawn to a race with big implications for power in Olympia.
Republicans rely on two Democrats to help them control the Senate. They would move closer to full control if Port Orchard Republican Angel unseated Gig Harbor Democrat Schlicher, who was appointed in January to replace Congress-bound Derek Kilmer.
Steyer founded a major hedge fund, but these days he spends all his time promoting the cause of clean energy through political, academic and charitable pursuits, said Matthew Lewis, a spokesman for Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action Committee.
Steyer has contributed millions of dollars to the committee in recent months, directing it around the country. Lewis said the largest target is the governor’s race in Virginia. Steyer puts his money where it can add “unique value” in connection with his cause, Lewis said.
In Washington, that includes $150,000 each for the committee targeting Angel, known as She’s Changed PAC, and for Washington Conservation Voters, another contributor to She’s Changed PAC.
Steyer’s contribution to the anti-Angel group joins those from Washington labor unions and a national Democratic committee that gave $35,000.
On the most recent prominent vote related to global warming, Angel opposed a study of how Washington should meet its greenhouse-gas emission limits, while Schlicher supported it. Lewis didn’t comment on that measure, but criticized Angel’s record.
“She’s taken votes that protect tax loopholes for big oil companies instead of funding for kids, classrooms,” he said.
Angel voted against a Democratic plan this year to raise $900 million for schools by extending higher tax rates and closing or narrowing tax exemptions, including a break intended for mills that is now mostly used by the state’s five oil refineries in Tacoma, Anacortes and near Ferndale. But she later voted for a compromise budget that added about $1 billion to basic education, less than Democrats had originally called for, while omitting those tax changes.
“She’s adamant about not burdening families with more taxes,” said her spokesman, Keith Schipper, who said it’s not clear how she might have voted on the oil tax break by itself.
Taxes have been at issue in the race. Schlicher supported a change to the estate tax that eliminated an unintended exemption for married couples, hitting some of the wealthy estates retroactively. (Angel opposed the change.) Schlicher said it was needed to fund schools. The independent group has attacked him for joining with fellow Democrats on that and other tax measures, as well as for his positions on gun laws.
The main group attacking Schlicher is the Good Government Leadership Council, whose sole donor is Senate Republicans’ committee, the Leadership Council.
The Leadership Council’s biggest donor is a national Republican group that gave $75,000. Other out-of-state contributions include $15,500 from Altria Client Services and $10,000 from RAI Services Co., both offshoots of tobacco companies. The council also received $15,000 from MillerCoors and, closer to home, $20,000 from Portland-based Cambia Health Solutions.
Cambia, which operates Regence BlueShield in Washington and which gave the maximum amount to Angel, said through a spokeswoman that it gives regularly to the Leadership Council without intending the money for a specific race.
Altria, which also gave the maximum to Angel, directed an inquiry to the section of its website that lists campaign contributions, including tens of thousands of dollars the tobacco parent company gave to Washington groups and politicians last year when many more races were on the ballot.
ATTACKS AND ALEC
Some out-of-state companies with ties to ALEC have helped the effort to elect Angel, who is ALEC’s co-chairwoman for Washington.
The right-of-center group brings together business leaders and lawmakers from around the country. Its Private Enterprise Advisory Council includes a representative of Altria and has included one from Reynolds American, parent of RAI. (Liberal groups recently touted what they said was their success in persuading MillerCoors and other companies to cut ties to the group.) Angel’s critics say some other donors have also been revealed as members of ALEC.
Bob Williams, a member of the council, said its discussions are strictly about policy. He’s been involved with ALEC since 1978 when he was a state lawmaker in Washington.
“I’ve never heard them bring up any campaign,” he said, “even when Gov. Walker of Wisconsin was under attack.” He said it’s more likely to be business groups in states that drive contributions.
ALEC crafts proposals intended for state legislatures, and Schlicher and Angel have sparred over how involved Angel has been with bringing the proposals to Washington.
Schlicher, at a candidate forum, claimed Angel’s proposal this year to allow drug testing for some welfare recipients was so-called model legislation from ALEC. But his campaign has not provided evidence supporting the assertion, although it pointed to reports that the topic was discussed at an ALEC meeting.
At the same forum, Angel maintained she hadn’t “brought any bill forward” that came from ALEC. But she did sign on to another lawmaker’s proposal on climate change that is very similar to ALEC model legislation. Her spokesman said she hadn’t knowingly signed on to any of the group’s model bills.Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 blog.thenewstribune.com/politics jordan.schrader@ thenewstribune.com @Jordan_Schrader