Identifying donors becomes issue in right-to-die campaign
When voters mark their ballots in the fall, they still may not know the primary sources of considerable cash flowing into the initiative.
Seattle Times health reporter
Yes on 1000: www.yeson1000.org
Coalition Against Assisted
Both sides of a voter initiative to legalize physician assistance in dying, likely on track for the fall ballot, have accused the other of attempting to hide the identity of donors and opening the door to out-of-state interests.
Initiative supporters claim that right-to-life group Human Life of Washington wants to influence the election while keeping voters in the dark about the true source of opposition funds, which historically have come from Catholic churches and related organizations.
On the other side, Initiative 1000's official opposition claims that supporters' "sleight of hand" has so obscured the identity of donors that voters wouldn't know if convicted euthanizer Jack Kevorkian had written a check to the campaign.
Each side says arguments made by the other don't meet "the smell test." At stake, they argue, is nothing less than democracy, the people's right to know and freedom of speech.
At the heart of the dispute are the state's public-disclosure laws meant to tell voters who is financing which campaigns. Whether the laws are clear and definitive or confusing and vague depends on the perspective. But one thing is clear: When voters mark their ballots in the fall, they still may not know the primary sources of considerable cash flowing into the I-1000 fight.
Initiative supporters have until July 3 to gather about 225,000 signatures to qualify for the fall ballot. I-1000 would enact an Oregon-style law allowing doctors to prescribe lethal drugs for terminally ill patients.
As of June 11, Yes on I-1000 had raised nearly $1.2 million, including in-kind contributions -- more than half from out-of-state donors and organizations.
About $440,000 has come from Oregon-based right-to-die organizations Death with Dignity and Compassion & Choices and its state chapters.
The largest individual donor by far is former Washington Gov. Booth Gardner, who has given $120,000 to Yes on 1000. Gardner, who is battling Parkinson's disease, pledged in 2006 that he would spearhead a campaign to legalize assistance in dying. Parkinson's is not considered a terminal disease and therefore wouldn't be a qualifying condition under the initiative.
The opposition campaign, Coalition against Assisted Suicide, had raised more than $90,000, mostly from Washington donors.
More fury, less money
Although they've raised far less money, initiative opponents have caused the most furor.
First off the starting line was Human Life of Washington, which filed a pre-emptive lawsuit in federal court in April. The suit claims the organization has a constitutional right to run radio ads about the issue of "physician-assisted suicide" without having to disclose its donors. State laws that require political-action committees to register and disclose donors violate Human Life's free-speech rights, the lawsuit contends.
"They are trying to limit us from discussing an issue we've been discussing for decades by putting an initiative on the ballot," said Human Life's lead counsel, James Bopp Jr. of the James Madison Center for Free Speech in Terre Haute, Ind.
The suit is pending before a federal judge, and the group hasn't yet run any ads.
Bopp says Human Life doesn't want to funnel donations into its political-action committee (PAC), which is required to disclose the names of contributors. "PACs are for elections. Talking about an issue is not about an election," he said.
Bopp said courts have recognized that naming donors exposes them to "potential harassment or intimidation by people who disagree with their views."
Initiative supporters scoff at Human Life's claims.
"To present that you are just happening to run radio ads while there is an initiative campaign strains credulity," said Barbara Lee, president of Compassion & Choices. "The intention and the spirit of the law is when an issue is before voters, voters get to know who's on one side and who's on the other -- the people, the funders."
In similar initiative battles in other states, most of the opposition money has come late in the campaign from Roman Catholic groups.
Chris Carlson, chairman of the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide, claims it's the Yes on I-1000 campaign that's trying to hide donors' identities. The campaign "took money from one out-of-state pocket and put it in another to avoid our disclosure laws," he said.
"Even if this turns out to be legal, it smells," Carlson said.
Under Washington law, a group must disclose donors if its primary purpose is to influence an election or if it raises money specifically for that purpose. So Yes on 1000 and the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide must register as political committees and identify their donors.
But a group established for another purpose, using existing money, doesn't have to disclose its donors even when it contributes to a political committee.
Both Death with Dignity National Center and Oregon-based Compassion & Choices say that makes them exempt from identifying their donors.
Death with Dignity National Center says it exists for defense and education of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, which legalized physician-assistance in dying in that state.
Compassion & Choices is a service, advocacy and educational organization with the aim of "improving care and expanding choice at the end of life," said Lee, Compassion's president. "Campaigns are actually unusual for us."
But Oregon Death with Dignity Political Action Fund, the biggest donor to the Washington campaign, did disclose some donors.
That's because one of that organization's goals is to pass right-to-die legislation in other states, said Peg Sandeen, executive director of both Death with Dignity National Center and Oregon Death with Dignity.
Carlson said the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide has decided not to file an official complaint with the PDC against the right-to-die groups for not identifying all of their donors. Although he believes their reporting violates the "spirit of the law," he said, it appears to have met its letter.
And he noted that his organization is not a party to the Human Life lawsuit. "We support disclosing contributors," he said. "We think the lawsuit was unnecessary."
Carol M. Ostrom: 206-464-2249 or email@example.com
|Top donors for and against I-1000|
|Yes on 1-1000||Location||Donation|
|Oregon Death With Dignity||Portland||$303,950|
|Compassion & Choices, WA||Seattle||$ 65,000|
|James Swift||Bellingham||$ 50,025|
|Compassion & Choices Action Network||Denver||$ 50,000|
|Loren E. Parks||Henderson, Nev.||$ 25,000|
|Death With Dignity National Center||Portland||$ 21,870|
|American Civil Liberties Union of Washington||Seattle||$ 21,563|
|Dr. James C. Allen||Madison, Wis.||$ 12,000|
|Victoria Reed||Medina||$ 11,000|
|Coalition Against Assisted Suicide||Location||Donation|
|Georganna Clifford||Spokane||$ 15,000|
|Richard Ferry||Mercer Island||$ 10,000|
|Craig T. Clifford||Spokane||$ 5,000|
|Robert Kelly||Seattle||$ 5,000|
|Thomas Matthews||Seattle||$ 5,000|
|Dale Peterson||Wenatchee||$ 5,000|
|Dr. Shane Macaulay||Bellevue||$ 5,000|
|Chris Carlson||Spokane||$ 3,536|
|Samual Basta||Bellevue||$ 2,500|
|Richard Thrasher||Sammamish||$ 2,500|
|Dale Winter||Bellevue||$ 2,500|
|Source: Public Disclosure Commission|
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
NEW - 07:13 AM
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is writing memoir
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.