Millionaires, billionaires give to state Senate PACs
Eyman, allies set to launch new initiative; Irksome errata
The high rollers among Washington’s wealthy political donors are starting to write big checks ahead of next year’s fight for control of the state Senate.
Rosanna Orr, one of the subjects of the Observer’s very first story on the influence of the wealthy in state politics, gave $50,000 last week to the Washington State Senate Democratic Campaign. That’s the hard-money political action committee controlled by the Democratic majority in the Senate. That’s the biggest check so far from an individual to any of the four caucus committees.
Orr, who founded the Wilberforce Foundation with very early Microsoft money, is a major environmental philanthropist who began giving big to the Washington State Democratic Party last year. The priorities of the environmental movement have been well served since Democrats took control of the Senate in a special election in 2017, especially in the passage this year of landmark climate legislation. So we can expect more big checks to help protect the majority. Democrats are defending several vulnerable seats next year, including two that they flipped in 2018 by narrow margins. Orr’s husband, James, was among the PAC’s major donors in 2017 and 2018.
On the other side of the aisle, billionaire Bruce McCaw sent the Senate Republican Campaign Committee $35,000 in July. McCaw, who is private-jet and fleet-of-vintage-race-cars rich both in his own right and as part of the McCaw family of early cellphone company fame, is a longtime Republican megadonor. He gave the Senate Republicans’ PAC $50,000 per year in 2017, 2018, and 2020. Republicans lost ground in all three elections1, which might explain the smaller check this year. McCaw also sent $20,000 to the House Republican Organizing Committee.
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Here’s why you should care about this: The four caucus committees spent $7.5 million in 2020, effectively swamping the ordinary fundraising limits in key races, pouring in as much as $200,000 per race directly or via the state parties. The money comes mainly from two sources — wealthy individuals like Orr and McCaw, and the surplus-money shuffle we wrote about last year, in which influential lawmakers in safe districts shake down lobbyists, corporations, unions, trade associations, and other Olympia players for contributions to their largely nonexistent campaigns, declare most of the money surplus, and then launder it through the caucus committees.
So far this cycle, the boss shufflers are exactly who you’d expect them to be: Senate Minority Leader John Braun gave his caucus PAC $100,000 so far. House Minority Leader JT Wilcox has dumped $110,000 into the House Republicans’ PAC. The big players on the Democratic side, who are in a better position to raise money by virtue of that whole being-in-charge thing, haven’t been heard from yet. In 2020 House Speaker Laurie Jinkins was good for $200,000, while Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig chipped in $160,000.
Eyman, allies to announce initiative campaign
On the heels of our highly speculative story on Tuesday about the possible meaning of the big checks flowing into Tim Eyman’s PAC2, the legally beleaguered anti-tax activist plans to announce — wait for it — a new initiative campaign this afternoon.
For those of you who missed it, we speculated that Eyman and Permanent Offense might be raising money for a wildcat campaign to repeal the capital gains tax approved by the Legislature earlier this year.
The notice of a news conference at the Secretary of State’s office in Olympia was mum on the details but did reference the late Michael Dunmire, one of Eyman’s most generous rich-guy benefactors, who died in 2014.
It’ll be interesting to see if Eyman also rolls out more deep-pocketed backers today. As several readers pointed out, the $75,000 that Permanent Offense pulled in from two big conservative donors in July isn’t enough to get motherhood and apple pie on the ballot, let alone anything controversial.
Now, it should be noted that Eyman has a long history of both empty bluster and news conferences as performance art. Who could forget the gorilla suit? That said, the Dunsmire reference sent us back to this piece in The Seattle Times’ archive under the byline of one David Postman,3 in which Dunsmire warned against writing the political obituary for Eyman, who was then on a multi-year losing streak. Well, that piece is from 2006.
Irksome errata, aka really infuriating stuff we got wrong
Speaking of Tuesday’s edition of The Observer, we need to correct two things we got wrong.
First, we wrongly put the passage of Eyman’s Initiative 976 in 2018, when it actually passed in 2019. Our confusion on this matter led us to search for the results in the 2018 section of Secretary of State Kim Wyman’s website, where we of course did not find them. And that led us to snarkily imply that the results had been erased because the initiative was thrown out by the Washington Supreme Court. In fact, the results are right where they should be. We offer our apology to the good folks at Wyman’s office, who have gotten too much abuse in the last year anyway.
Secondly, in the item about the money-stacking going on in preparation for a might-happen ballot fight over where you can legally bet on sports in Washington, we undersized Maverick Gaming’s stack of chips at $1 million. The company’s PAC, Washingtonians Win, has more than $2 million in hand.
Recommended: The inspiring story of The Colorado Sun
Today is the three-year anniversary of The Colorado Sun, one of the inspirations for the creation of the Observer. Anyone who cares about regional journalism should go read Sun Editor Larry Ryckman’s letter to his readers. Short version: Ryckman, who was one of your correspondent’s long-suffering editors at The Associated Press back in the day, built a lifeboat for himself and nine colleagues to escape the flaming wreckage of The Denver Post, which was being stripped to rafters by the vultures at Alden Global Capital. Three years later, they’re twice as big and growing, cranking out great journalism and generally doing their bit to save democracy. Raise a glass.
And now for some Milo
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Technically, the GOP broke even in Senate races last year, winning a seat in Southwest Washington’s 19th District and losing one in Pierce County’s 28th, but the result of that was swapping conservative Democrat Dean Takko for progressive Democrat T’wina Nobles, which helped Democrats pass a much more aggressive agenda.
Yes, we know that he’s not technically an officer of the PAC because he’s banned from that kind of thing, but seriously, just go look at the website.
Yes, the same David Postman who, until recently, was Gov. Jay Inslee’s chief of staff.