The state Republican Party is making a last-ditch effort to win the race for state commissioner of public lands with a big-time donation to Republican Steve McLaughlin.
Polls of the race show a tight contest heading into next week’s election, but Democrat Hilary Franz had a clear advantage in fundraising for a time.
Now Republicans are looking to even the score.
The state party chipped in $280,000 to McLaughlin’s campaign last week as “a counterbalance” to Franz’s backers, said Caleb Heimlich, executive director for state Republicans. Most of the money is going toward radio advertisements, according to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.
Franz has been boosted by more than $220,000 in independent spending by the environmental advocacy group Washington Conservation Voters. The Democrat has also raised about double that on her own.
Not counting state GOP help in October, McLaughlin had raised about $190,000.
“We wanted to make sure the message of our balanced, more experienced candidate was getting out,” Heimlich said.
Franz is an environmental attorney and a former Bainbridge Island city councilwoman. McLaughlin is a retired Navy commander who served for 25 years.
A late October survey of 502 likely voters by independent pollster Stuart Elway found Franz had a 5-point lead on McLaughlin in the race to lead the state Department of Natural Resources. The poll said 33 percent of voters surveyed were undecided. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.
This close to the election, the GOP cash isn’t likely to cause Washington Conservation Voters to plunge significantly more cash into the race, said organization president Shannon Murphy. She said the group is more focused on get-out-the-vote efforts at this point.
But she did critique the source of some GOP’s war chest: timber companies, which the Department of Natural Resources is charged with regulating on public lands.
The timber company Weyerhaeuser and individual Weyerhaeuser family members gave at least $130,000 to the state Republican Party in October, along with smaller contributions from other logging outfits such as Green Crow Timber.
Weyerhaeuser and other timber companies have given directly to McLaughlin’s campaign, too.
“I think what worries me is when so much money is going into a race from an industry that would be regulated by the commissioner of public lands,” Murphy said.
Gary Smith, co-chair of McLaughlin’s campaign, hit back, questioning donations from out-of-state organizations to Franz’s cause, and criticizing the $140,000 sent to pro-Franz PACs by Seattle environmental attorney Peter Goldman.
He claimed it’s “far more appropriate” for McLaughlin to get money from “employers who are involved in forestry and agriculture in Washington state” than for Franz to get big donations from one lawyer and from out-of-state groups.
The GOP money represents a large investment from the state party. It’s more than other Republican statewide candidates have gotten in direct contribution from the party this election, besides gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant.
Some of the candidates for statewide office haven’t needed the cash boost.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman has raised $759,296 with only $50,000 coming from the state party in October. McLaughlin has raised $494,538 in total after the recent GOP donations.
But others are trailing Wyman and McLaughlin. Republican auditor candidate Mark Miloscia has raised $185,289 and Republican lieutenant governor hopeful Marty McClendon is at $113,742. The pair have gotten some in-kind contributions from the state party.
Though McClendon was virtually tied with Democrat Cyrus Habib in the October Elway poll, Miloscia was trailing Democrat and Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy by about 10 points.
Heimlich said other candidates besides McLaughlin are getting help too, but said the party is “prioritizing the races” they think can win “in offices that have a big impact going forward.”
“Bottom line is this is a winnable race,” Heimlich said of the contest for Commissioner of Public Lands.