Political Smell Test: Ad attacking Tami Green doesn’t tell the whole story

Staff writerMay 14, 2014 

A cable television ad attacking Tami Green, D-Lakewood, accuses her of playing political games. But it chooses to generalize such things as her compensation for time in the Legislature rather than offer full explanations.

A Republican-backed political committee has launched the first big attack ad of this year’s legislative election season, and it’s taking aim at state Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood.

The $42,000 ad is paid for by the Good Government Leadership Council, a political committee funded mostly by Republicans who want to keep a conservative majority in the state Senate.

Green is looking to unseat state Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, who was appointed to the Senate last year after serving about six months in the state House.

Democrats must gain two seats in the November election to win back control of the Senate, and they’re hoping Green can get them halfway there.

The cable TV ad opposing Green has been running for about two weeks in the 28th Legislative District, a politically moderate part of Pierce County that includes Lakewood, Steilacoom, University Place, Joint Base Lewis-McChord and parts of Tacoma.

The 30-second ad accuses Green of “playing a political game” during her past 10 years in office. It throws out several accusations about how much she’s raised taxes, cut school spending and accepted money from special interest groups.

“Tami’s playing the game, but we’re paying the price,” the ad says.

CLAIM: The TV spot says Green has taken more than $690,000 from “special interests.”

FACT: The amount of donations the ad mentions — $690,000 — is about right, though it refers to a wide variety of campaign contributions over a 14-year period.

The figure includes about $191,000 in contributions from Democratic party campaign committees, according to data provided by the ad’s creators.

Other groups that have given Green money since 2000 include labor unions, as well as political arms of industry organizations such as the Washington State Hospital Association.

Some of Green’s donors have been political advocacy groups, including NARAL Pro-Choice Washington and the Sierra Club.

O’Ban, Green’s opponent, also has taken money from political parties, advocacy groups and other organizations since he first ran for the state House in 2010.

CLAIM: “Tami was fined for hiding campaign contributions.”

FACT: Green was fined by the state Public Disclosure Commission for not filing timely reports of her campaign fundraising over a six-month period between 2005 and 2006. The $500 fine was reduced to $250 on the condition that she not violate the law again in the next four years. She didn’t.

Green said she missed the deadlines for filing the financial reports due to a “miscommunication” between her and her campaign treasurer at the time.

CLAIM: Green was convicted of an ethics violation.

FACT: Green was sanctioned by the Legislative Ethics Board in 2005 after she sent a letter on her official legislative stationery to an Auburn company, urging the employer to negotiate with its union.

The Legislative Ethics Board said Green shouldn’t have used state resources “to become involved in a purely private labor dispute.”

The board gave Green a “letter of instruction,” its lowest level of punishment.

CLAIM: “Others refused a pay raise – Tami Green pocketed the cash.”

FACT: This year, a House panel voted to raise legislators’ daily expense allowance from $90 to $120. The allowance is meant to cover the costs of food, lodging and other daily expenses lawmakers incur when the Legislature meets in Olympia.

Green accepted the increased per diem payments this year, as did most of the House’s 98 members. Only six House members took less.

A state Senate panel approved the same per diem increase for senators after lawmakers adjourned in March. Some senators, including O’Ban, have said they won’t take the extra money next year.

Green previously has taken a voluntary pay cut. Between September 2011 and June 2013, she asked that her salary be reduced by 3 percent, matching the amount that the Legislature voted to reduce state workers’ pay during that period.

Rank-and-file state lawmakers make $42,106 per year.

CLAIM: “Tami voted to cut $2.5 billion from schools, and a 30 percent increase in college tuition, and $1 billion in increased taxes.”

FACTS: During the economic recession, lawmakers reduced spending on K-12 education — along with many other state services — to bridge a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall.

The Legislature suspended voter-approved initiatives to lower class size and give teachers cost-of-living raises, which saved the state about $600 million in the 2009-2011 biennium and about $1.2 billion in 2011-2013.

Lawmakers also cut teacher pay and eliminated other funding intended to reduce class sizes in 2011.

Including the suspension of the two initiatives, the Legislature’s combined cuts to K-12 education in 2009, 2010 and 2011 added up to roughly $2.5 billion.

Green voted for those budget proposals, as did a majority of the Legislature.

The two-year spending plan lawmakers approved in 2011 also budgeted annual tuition hikes of 16 percent at the state’s largest public universities, though it gave the schools authority to set their own tuition rates. Green voted for that plan, too.

At the same time, Green has supported plans to boost funding for public education by raising taxes. In 2013 she voted to end preferential tax treatment for travel agents, insurance agents and janitorial services, as well as on sales of bottled water. That plan would have raised about $900 million to $1 billion each year for schools. It didn’t pass the full Legislature.

BOTTOM LINE: The claims can be substantiated, though the ad is misleading in characterizing expense allotments as pay. Context could shed a different light on some of the ad’s accusations.

Melissa Santos:360-357-0209

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