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Originally published Sunday, July 29, 2012 at 9:28 PM

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BIAW no longer cash cow for Republican candidates

The Building Industry Association of Washington is no longer a major player in GOP politics. Which prompts the question: Who might step up and run the kind of multimillion independent campaigns the group waged when Dino Rossi ran for governor?

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

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OLYMPIA — Ever since the Building Industry Association of Washington largely closed its wallet to Republican candidates and causes, the big question has been who would replace it.

The answer: apparently no one.

The BIAW was once known for hardball politics and spending millions to support conservative efforts. In the 2008 race for governor, the group spent $6 million to support Republican Dino Rossi's failed attempt to unseat Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire.

But new leadership, and a smaller budget due to the ongoing housing crunch, has changed the organization and sharply reduced its spending since 2010.

The latest state reports show that the BIAW's Washington Affordable Housing Council PAC has contributed around $145,000 to individual candidates and campaign funds this election. But the BIAW's executive vice president, Art Castle, said the PAC won't get involved in independent expenditures to support GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna.

The BIAW, which has endorsed McKenna, might help out later, but it won't be in the millions of dollars, Castle said. "It's not going to be the kind of independent expenditure BIAW has done in the past," he said.

McKenna's Democratic challenger, Jay Inslee, is being aided by the labor-backed, political-action committee, Our Washington, which has raised $2.4 million, including $1.25 million from the Democratic Governors Association. The group has reserved large chunks of television airtime for the final weeks of the election.

The BIAW's scaled-back role doesn't mean McKenna will be left in the dust.

"Let's be fair. There are national groups the Republican Party has that are better funded than the Democratic Party and they are going to come in here with a lot of money," said Chris Vance, a former chairman of the state Republican Party.

The Republican Governors Association (RGA), for example, has already created a PAC and seeded it with a $10,000 contribution. Democratic trackers say the group has reserved about $2.4 million in airtime for political ads statewide, so far.

RGA officials won't comment except to say they plan to mount a television-advertising campaign to support McKenna.

This would be nothing new on their part. The RGA was a major player during the 2008 campaign as well, with its PAC raising more than $5 million to support Rossi.

Locally, however, the only group that says it might play a role supporting McKenna is the Association of Washington Business. The AWB has endorsed him. Its PAC has raised $538,000 so far, most of which was spent to help qualify Initiative 1185 for the ballot. The measure, sponsored by Tim Eyman, requires a two-thirds vote in the Legislature or voter approval to increase taxes.

The group's executive director, Don Brunell, said the AWB hasn't decided if it will get involved in the governor's race.

For his part, McKenna is no pauper. His campaign has raised more than $7 million, and spent about $3 million.

Inslee has raised about $6.8 million and spent $4 million.

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or agarber@seattletimes.com

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