Culp campaign cash dries up
Cap-and-trade clears committee with more changes; Inslee calls out Mullet-gutted insurance bill; About that Herrera Beutler censure; Inslee's surplus $500K
Looks like the money from the long grift that was Loren Culp’s campaign for governor has dried up. The campaign took in just $760 in January, according to its latest disclosure to the Public Disclosure Commission. Culp had been working his extensive list of small donors hard for months after the election by pretending he didn’t get beaten in November by more than half a million votes.
Meanwhile, the New Patriot Political Committee, which was founded by Culp consultant Christopher Gergen ostensibly to carry on the political momentum of the campaign, hasn’t filed any disclosure with the Public Disclosure Commission this month. That means either means the PAC raised no money at all in January, is two weeks late in filing, or is illegally raising unreported political money. Gergen, you’ll remember, pocketed more than 10 percent of the $3.3 million the campaign mined from the small conservative donors of Washington State, then blew town for Las Vegas.
But that doesn’t mean Culp and Gergen aren’t working the supporter base for money. Each produces a weekly online conservative talk show on Culp’s Facebook and YouTube pages. Culp’s most recent Common Sense features a commercial for his upcoming book. Gergen’s most recent Pushback runs an on-screen banner for the New Patriot PAC throughout. Each episode had about 7,000 views on Facebook and 450 on YouTube. That’s down from about 41,000 views of the Dec. 21 video announcing the lawsuit.
Although Culp got historically spanked in November, especially in King County, he also got 1.7 million votes, more than any Republican in state history, and enough to win every race for governor except 2016 and 2020. Some 28,000 people liked him enough to give money, sometimes just a few dollars. The question was whether could forge that support into an enduring movement. For the moment, looks like not so much.
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Recent events haven’t helped: Ferguson slapped the campaign down hard last month with a nastygram threatening both the attorney and the campaign with sanctions over the lawsuit against Secretary of State Kim Wyman, essentially for failing to observe basic rules of lawyering that every attorney learns in the first few weeks of law school. Ferguson’s epistle to attorney Stephen Pidgeon was a solid piece of shade:
“Mr. Culp lost the election by more than 545,000 votes. Rather than concede gracefully, Mr. Culp has used this lawsuit to distract from the magnitude of his loss and to sow confusion. Mr. Culp also fundraised off his baseless allegations, even as the country has erupted in violence stoked by the types of reckless allegations made in this litigation. “
The sanctions, Ferguson’s office told The Observer, likely would have run in the tens of thousands of dollars. By then, Gergen, Culp himself, the lawyer, and other vendors had stripped the campaign account bare. Pidgeon apparently had little interest in parting with his $50,000 in fees, or in risking disbarment. So Culp’s promise to fight the election result indefinitely turned into meek capitulation.
About that $50,000: While your correspondent managed to resist the siren call of law school, The Observer knows many lawyers. An informal poll indicates that even the goofiest attorney would have known that filing such a suit would inevitably lead to said nastygram and to the bar complaint filed by the Washington State Democratic Party. Our friends of the bar — whom sadly we haven’t seen at the bar in far too long — also uniformly agreed that 50 grand is an egregious amount of money for such a small amount of work. We were watching to see if it was a retainer, in which case Pidgeon might refund some of it. Not so far, per this week’s disclosure.
So the end result of this is that Pidgeon is $50,000 richer,1 which is consistent with the campaign’s pattern of fat consultant fees and overpaid vendors that make it look more like a money-making operation than a political movement.
Senate committee moves Carlyle cap-and-trade bill
The Senate Energy, Environment and Technology Committee voted out Chair Reuven Carlyle’s cap-and-trade bill Thursday morning, keeping alive the keystone of Gov. Jay Inslee’s carbon-reduction agenda a few days after another big chunk of it died.
The committee tacked on a few amendments to Senate Bill 5126 that are designed to ease some of the many pain points around the sweeping measure.
As we reported Monday, Carlyle, D-Seattle, has been tweaking the bill to address the concerns of environmental justice advocates who argue that it doesn’t do enough to help communities hurt the worst by pollution in the past.
Broadly, cap-and-trade works like this: emissions from major polluters are capped, and the state auctions off the right to pollute under the cap, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars for the state each year. Companies can buy and sell those rights to keep polluting under the cap, creating a marketplace that incentivizes them to pollute less.
Environmental justice advocates argue that system, which has been in place in California for years, allows polluters to buy the right to keep poisoning vulnerable neighbors. One of the amendments adopted on Thursday addresses that by allowing the Department of Ecology to cancel deals that have that effect.
Also, somewhat surprisingly, the committee voted to add the state’s oil refineries to the list of manufacturers that are considered “energy-intensive, trade-exposed” that can seek free emissions allowances in the early years of the plan. The idea is to protect Washington businesses with competitors elsewhere that won’t bear the costs of cap-and-trade. The refineries had been left off that list because most of their products get sold and burned here.
But the break will only apply to the refining process itself. The far larger carbon footprint of the fuel they produce gets hit by cap-and-trade later in the supply system, at regional distribution centers for fuel called “racks.” That hit will likely get passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.
The bill passed out of the committee on a party-line vote, with two notable lawmakers voting “no recommendation:” Sen. Liz Lovelett, D-Anacortes, the sponsor of the competing carbon tax known as Washington STRONG, and Sen. Tim Sheldon, the conservative Mason County Democrat who caucuses with the Republican minority. Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee voted aye. That indicates he and Carlyle have agreed to dedicate a big chunk of the money to a big transportation spending package. The bill now heads to Ways and Means.
Inslee calls out credit-scoring bill Mullet gutted
Gov. Jay Inslee used his weekly news conference to call on lawmakers to restore the original version of a bill to ban the practice of using credit scores to set rates for personal insurance.
As we reported, business-friendly Sen. Mark Mullet gutted Senate Bill 5010 before it passed out of his Business, Financial Services, and Trade Committee at the policy cutoff. It’s awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.
Critics of the practice argue that it punishes people — especially low-income people and people of color — with higher insurance rates for suffering economic hardship beyond their control.
“This is a discriminatory, unfair practice,” Inslee said without using Mullet’s name. “There’s no reason it should be allowed in the state of Washington. We’re urging the Legislature to take another crack at this.”
The insurance industry is lobbying hard against the bill, arguing that credit scores are a valid input into an objective system for predicting how risky customers are.
We can file this one under “elections have consequences.” Inslee, along with a variety of progressive interest groups, endorsed Mullet’s opponent last year. Mullet, D-Issaquah, who won by 58 votes, likely would have lost that challenge without the $1 million lobbyist-driven independent campaign on his behalf, bankrolled in part by the insurance industry.
About that censure of Jaime Herrera Beutler
The Clark County Republican Party formally censured U.S. Rep. Jaime Herra Beutler this week for her principled vote to impeach former President Donald Trump over his role in the riot at the U.S Capitol. It’s part of a widely anticipated backlash from the right against GOP lawmakers who dared criticize Trump.
But here’s the thing, as Calley Hair’s story in The Columbian illustrates in rich detail, the county party, like many county parties on both sides of the aisle, is a nest of zealots. Here’s a telling graf from her piece.
Joey Gibson, founder of the right-wing activist group Patriot Prayer and a precinct committee officer in the CCRP, can be seen in the video among the meeting’s attendees. Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, a prominent local member of the Proud Boys, served as the meeting’s sergeant at arms.
It’s not clear the county party’s endorsement will have much impact. Herrera Beutler won by 13 percentage points in November and significantly outperformed Trump throughout her district.
Meanwhile, the county party’s attempts to punish Republicans for excessive moderation haven’t gone well recently. Last year, they failed to take out Sen. Ann Rivers both with a bruising primary challenge from the right and a conservative write-in campaign in the general election. Rivers, R-La Center, cruised to a 16-point win in the 18th District, which covers the most conservative parts of Clark County.
Inslee rolls campaign money into 2024 committee, drops $500K into surplus account
Gov. Jay Inslee rolled the leftover money from his 2020 reelection into a 2024 campaign committee last month and then transferred $500,000 into a surplus campaign money account.
There was more than $864,000 left at the end of Inslee’s landslide win over Loren Culp, including about $20,000 he raised in early December before the start of the annual fundraising freeze that lasts until the Legislature adjourns this spring. The campaign raised more than $8 million for the 2020 cycle.
Rolling campaign money into a theoretical 2024 campaign doesn’t necessarily mean Inslee will seek an unprecedented fourth term. But he’ll almost certainly raise money as if he’s running again because campaign cash is a currency of power and no politician wants to be a lame duck. The campaign paid fundraising consultant Tracy Newman $13,000 in January.
The $500,000 in surplus money likewise doesn’t necessarily signal anything. After he was reelected in 2016, he dropped $100,000 into the surplus account. Inslee could spend it a few different ways, including refunds to donors; political donations, including in unlimited amounts to the Democratic Party;2 donations to charity; and non-reimbursed expenses of his office. The surplus funds system is mostly used for a form of legal political money-laundering we wrote about last year.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for a refund if you wrote Inslee a check. Since 2016, he’s spent less than $20,000 from the surplus account, mostly on charitable donations and travel, leaving about $580,000.
Errata, both saddening and irksome
Your correspondent hasn’t actually been to downtown Olympia since sometime early in 2020, so he was unaware of the sad news that the Water Street Cafe, a favorite haunt of lobbyists and lawmakers, closed for good last year. That made our reference to its cozy bar in Wednesday’s edition of the Observer unintentionally wistful. Too many of our favorite watering holes will never welcome us again.
In more irksome garden-variety errors, we described Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon as “D-Burient” in the same piece. It really seems like something the robot copy editor should have caught. Fitzgibbon is, of course, D-Burien.
From our canine correspondent
Assuming, of course, that the money wasn’t kicked back to Gergen or Culp, but that would be both unethical for the lawyer and illegal under the campaign finance laws.
As we reported, much of Inslee’s money came from millionaire and billionaire donors to the Washington State Democratic Party.
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