Key interest groups financed large part of hand recount
The unprecedented hand recount that put Gov. Christine Gregoire in office this week was paid for in large part with contributions from powerful interest groups, including labor...
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — The unprecedented hand recount that put Gov. Christine Gregoire in office this week was paid for in large part with contributions from powerful interest groups, including labor unions, tribes and trial lawyers, which gave much more than they would have been allowed during the campaign.
Democrats, by law, had to put down a $730,000 deposit with the state to do the recount. The party made a nationwide appeal to raise that amount and much more.
The money poured in at a record pace: roughly $2 million between Nov. 2 and the end of last month. That easily paid for the hand recount, which put Gregoire ahead of Republican opponent Dino Rossi by 129 votes.
Party officials last month eagerly highlighted donations from high-profile groups, such as $250,000 each from the Democratic National Committee, members of the liberal MoveOn political-action committee and John Kerry's campaign.
But they said little about other donations that paid for much of the recount and related costs. Labor unions, for example, gave more than any other single group, contributing more than $720,000, according to reports the party filed with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) this week. An additional $120,000 came from tribes and lawyers.
The state Republican Party, which fought the recount, raised about $580,000 in the same period. The largest contribution came from the Republican Governors Association, which donated $85,000, according to state records.
Like Gregoire, Rossi got help from organizations that would be lobbying him in Olympia today if the recount had found him the winner. Many of them also gave more than the $2,700 they could donate during the regular election. In the governor's race, donors are limited to contributions of $1,350 in the primary and $1,350 in the general-election campaign.
Donations to the Republican Party included $25,000 from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, $20,000 from Safeco and $10,000 from Weyerhaeuser.
State law doesn't limit contributions to parties for recounts because technically, the money doesn't go to individual candidates.
But Alex Knott of the Center for Public Integrity said money for recounts should be regulated at least as much as campaign donations.
"The money is just as important, if not more important," said Knott, political editor at the Washington, D.C.-based political watchdog group. "Are they in fact buying influence? The answer is yes."
Washington state handles recount money in a similar fashion to the federal government and most states, Knott said.
After the 2000 presidential election, George W. Bush voluntarily limited donations to his recount fund to $5,000 from any donor. But Knott said the campaign did not always adhere to the limit and was 16 months late in filing reports detailing the donations.
State Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt sees no need for change, saying the state, not the party, should have paid for the recount anyway.
And there's no reason to worry that Gregoire owes these groups, he said: "This was a party-run operation. This was not a Gregoire campaign. We made the decision. We called the shots. And I don't see where there should be any concern whatsoever that people should think she was influenced by this."
Greg Devereux, executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees, said he "reached out to the campaign" and asked Gregoire if she needed a donation.
The union's national organization, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, gave Gregoire $250,000 on Dec. 1.
Devereux said he didn't think the large contribution posed the sort of conflict that regular campaign-season limits are designed to avoid.
Gregoire's position on state-employee raises has not changed since early in the year, before the union gave her any money, he said.
The $250,000, Devereux said, was to pay for legal expenses, recount expenses and other expenses the party incurred.
"I don't know enough to know how much is too much in that regard," he said. "Certainly I think both sides should have money to pursue the legal angles and other things they need."
But he hopes to get at least some of it back. State law says that if the recount reverses the outcome of the election — which it did — the money will be reimbursed to the party, and the counties will pay instead. That has been put on hold while Republicans challenge the recount result in court. But if the state gives the Democrats the money back, Devereux said he wants some returned to the public-employees union. "I don't think it should just sit in a pot somewhere," he said.
Democrats were in a rush after the machine recount to raise money for a hand recount. Party officials repeatedly said they weren't sure if they'd succeed.
On Dec. 2, Gregoire said she would concede the governor's race if the party failed to raise enough money for a statewide hand recount by the next day's deadline.
But it appears the party already had enough money in its accounts that day to put down the required deposit.
Berendt said the numbers are misleading. "Did we have more than $750,000 in the bank on the day before? Yes, we did," he said.
But "a good portion of that money was already budgeted for other purposes," he added.
The party needed to raise a lot more than the recount down payment, he said, to pay for legal expenses, staffing and campaign debt. That he quickly ended up with plenty of money was a surprise, Berendt said. "More money came in than we dreamed would come in. That's a fact."
Gregoire yesterday said that when she met with party officials Dec. 1, "no way was there any indication to me that they had $750,000 at that point. And further, they made it clear to me that if they did have $750,000, they still couldn't go because they had to have money for a field operation and legal challenges."
Gregoire said she was told a ton of money flowed in after she talked publicly about conceding the race.
That's true. On the day she made her announcement and on the following day, the party received about $700,000 in its state account.
Andrew Garber: 360-943-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.
(The Associated Press) New GM cars to get free maintenance plan General Motors, aiming to increase customer loyalty, recently announced that it will e...
Post a comment
Post a comment