When the Washington State Legislature closed its third special session Tuesday with the crack of a gavel, the sharp report heard in the Capitol could also be heard as the firing of a starter’s pistol at the beginning of open field fundraising in dozens of state races, most notably the race for Washington State Governor.
State law makes it illegal for state officeholders to accept campaign contributions while the Legislature is in session, a reality of Washington’s finance laws that took Washington State Attorney General and Republican candidate for governor Rob McKenna out of the money hunt for 114 days of an almost yearlong campaign.
On the other hand, McKenna’s opponent—former congressman and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Jay Inslee—has been unfettered in his quest for dollars because the in-session fundraising moratorium does not apply to congressional officeholders.
Despite this apparent advantage, whether Inslee has benefited from his 114-day head start is a matter of perspective.
In gross dollars, Inslee has surged ahead of McKenna, taking in just over $4.8 million compared to McKenna’s $4 million. When transfers are backed out of those totals, however—amounts on Inslee’s ledger totaling more than $711,000 in direct transfers from the State Democratic Party and at least $600,000 in transfers from his congressional campaign fund*—McKenna stands atop $3.9 million in direct contributions to his gubernatorial account compared to $3.5 million for Inslee.
(* The legality of Inslee’s congressional transfers is still questioned by Republicans, on the grounds that Inslee has not disclosed which donors to his congressional fund have given permission for their prior contributions to be moved into his gubernatorial account – and when that permission was given – making it impossible to be certain whether some donors could legally transfer their money to his current campaign.)
And then there is the small matter of a special election to fill Inslee’s vacant seat in Congress for one month, an estimated seven-figure expense for balloting and voter education precipitated by his clumsy and ill-timed exit from the 1st Congressional District seat in the U.S. House.
Last week, the Washington State Republican Party grabbed headlines by presenting Inslee with a $770,000 invoice on behalf of taxpayers, a bill that was later adjusted to $1 million after Secretary of State Sam Reed released a total figure including the cost estimates of auditors in counties that will be impacted by the special election and a budget for voter education.
Inslee disregarded the Republican demand but this bill will continue to hound Inslee, ironically because Democrats in Olympia forgot to cover it for him.
The Everett Herald reported Thursday that in the haste of reaching a compromise, Democrat budget chiefs pulled the equivalent of a dine and dash, forgetting to pay for the special election and leaving Inslee at the table with the check in hand. From The Everett Herald:
“It was a last-minute thing. It was the last day,” [State Sen. Ed Murray (D)] said. “It was a large number and there was no time to scrub it.”
In a statement today, WSRP Chair Kirby Wilbur suggested the absence of funding in the state budget might not be an oversight, and that maybe Washington Democrats are expecting Inslee to pay the bill.
“This million dollar mistake by ex-Congressman Jay Inslee is so bad, his Democrat allies in the Legislature didn’t even want to touch it,” Wilbur said in a statement. “His Party leaders must be counting on him to cover the cost of the special election.”
So far, the Inslee campaign’s response on the special election issue has been to publicly challenge Reed’s estimate—describing it as “questionably high”—without directly disowning responsibility for the amount.
We asked the Secretary of State’s office if there had been any communication with Inslee or his campaign about a possible special election, either before or after former congressman’s resignation announcement.
“As far as I know, there was no contact between Congressman Inslee or his staff and our office about the timing or the resignation and effect on elections to fill the vacancy,” David Ammons, communications director for Reed’s office, informed us by email.
We also emailed Inslee campaign communications director Sterling Clifford to ask whether the Republican Party is correct in saying Inslee bears responsibility for the special election expense, a separate issue from what the actual cost might be. We did not receive a response.
Even if Inslee decides to let taxpayers pick up the tab for the special election and hold onto his technical lead in the battle of the bank accounts, trends in the race show that he needs to generate more enthusiasm for direct contributions in order to avoid being overtaken by McKenna.
When the totals of direct contributions are averaged over the number of days each candidate has been legally able to accept contributions, McKenna’s fundraising advantage looks even clearer, according to figures cited Thursday by his campaign.
The skinny: Every day McKenna has been allowed to take contributions he has raised more than $22,000 compared to $12,173 a day by Inslee, the campaign’s calculations state. Every day McKenna is allowed onto the field, he scores nearly twice as much as Inslee.
McKenna’s ability to elevate the line on the tote board has prompted Republicans to ask, ‘Did Democrats in the state Legislature drag out negotiations on the budget, a lethargic process that incidentally—if not purposefully—kept McKenna on the sidelines?’
Between March 8 and April 4, Democrats in the state Legislature did not propose a budget despite having been called into special session by Gov. Christine Gregoire for that sole purpose.
Whether intentional or not, the Legislature’s extended overtime—despite McKenna’s ability to raise money faster—has afforded Inslee a small amount of breathing room, two and a half months based on the pace each candidate is raising money.