Local tech giants Microsoft and Amazon are among the biggest donors making it possible for state lawmakers from around the country to converge on Seattle next week.
Makers of alcoholic drinks, cigarettes, pharmaceutical drugs and marijuana are chipping in, too.
Planning this year’s summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures has taken years and the effort of Washington lawmakers and staff members, but private donors, not taxpayers, will pick up most of the state’s tab for hosting.
Fundraising by the Legislature has collected more than $1.4 million in contributions of money, event space, wine and more, according to legislative staff members.
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In return, some donors get access to the ears, eyes and taste buds of more than 5,000 lawmakers and staff members.
“We have over 50 Washington wineries that have donated wine,” said Josh McDonald, executive director of the Washington Wine Institute. “It’s an opportunity for us to showcase that Washington makes world-class wine to folks around the country.”
Monday, the first of the summit’s four days, will include an evening of wine tasting.
Wednesday will end with a “block party” at the Space Needle and, just below, at the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum, with samples of local food and wine and local music from the Seattle Rock Orchestra and Tacoma’s Vicci Martinez.
The wine institute, museum, Space Needle, Amazon and Microsoft are the convention’s “platinum and gold sponsors.” One tier down, sponsors include the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, the International Association of Fire Fighters union and tobacco company Reynolds American.
Smaller donors range from banks to public universities and from the Seattle Seahawks to the Washington CannaBusiness Association of state-licensed marijuana companies.
Serious business will be on tap at the Washington State Convention Center.
The days will be packed with sessions on topics including police body cameras, marijuana, the Affordable Care Act and ride-sharing, sprinkled with speakers such as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Some sessions are sponsored by groups or companies such as Uber and Taser. The legislators group said private organizations do not control the content of sessions.
Lawmakers say they soak up information at the sessions and during the more informal mingling and networking.
“You learn. That’s what I like,” said Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who helped organize this year’s conference as well as the last one Washington hosted a decade ago. “There are luncheons where you meet with people on DNA issues or new proposals for transit. Name the topic and you’re going to find it.”
“There are so many parties and receptions,” said Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle. “Every morning I’ve got 7, 7:30 a.m. breakfast meetings, and there are the receptions at night and dinners and after-receptions. I’ll probably get home at 10 at night.”
The state legislators group is bipartisan, with a leadership that rotates between Democrats and Republicans. It’s a font of information for legislators, their staff members and the public about how practices and laws vary from state to state.
“Whether you agree with what you’re learning or not, it gives you another perspective, another view on a subject that you may have closed your mind to in a sense,” said Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville and another organizer. “It gives you an ability to think about it differently.”
More than 200 staff members from the Legislature are signed up to spend their working hours helping out and attending sessions at the convention center. More than 70 Washington lawmakers are expected to take part.
The legislators group charges registration to just 40 of them, at a cost to state government of $549 each.
The state also will pick up some lodging and transportation costs, but likely far less than it pays most years when other states host the annual summit.
Mostly through registration fees, the conference expects to raise $1.3 million to spend on the sessions on top of what Washington organizers raise.
The group predicts a payoff for Washington’s economy. People who attend the conference are expected to spend more than $8 million while here, according to the legislators group.
A big chunk of that money will go to Seattle hotels. But some lawmakers are expected to venture south to check out the state capital.
On Tuesday, legislative staff members said, foreign leaders representing at least 30 countries will visit the Capitol Campus and participate in a mock debate.