Washington Focus Facebook Twitter Google+ YouTube LinkedIn RSS

In the News


State Senator-elect Jan Angel (R)

Mailboxes are still cooling down in Washington state’s 26th legislative district, the site of this year’s hard-fought race for state Senate between incumbent appointee Nathan Schlicher (D) and then-state Rep. Jan Angel (R), but there’s no doubt that heat is warming the hopes of Republicans after Angel’s impressive and important victory.

In one sense, Angel’s ultimate victory was nearly total. She beat her opponent by nine points in the August primary. Even more impressive, she earned a decisive four-point win in the general election by withstanding a record-setting onslaught of attack spending for a state legislative race.

In doing so, Angel adds one more critical vote to the Republican-led bipartisan Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, a paradigm-shifting alignment of interests that succeeded in slowing state government spending and tax increases for the first time in almost a decade. To say that Schlicher’s loss was a body blow to Democrats is an understatement. Angel adds more weight to the legislative force lobbying for reform and restraint, a caucus that seems more in sync with voter sensitivities as indicated by a slew of anti-tax ballot measure decisions.

When political strategists looked at the race earlier in the year, coming as it did in an off, off year, it fit the archetype of a spotlight contest for a Democrat-held seat in a blue state that would draw attention from and spending by local and national politicos.

Both Republicans and Democrats had the same success metric for the race: nothing less than a win was acceptable and each side was prepared to go all in.

Democrats needed to hang onto the seat and stall the growth of the bipartisan Senate Majority Coalition Caucus that had successfully resisted a major push for drastic tax increases; Republicans sought to extend the advantage of same and by doing so set the table for the 2014 election when the GOP hopes of retaking the state Legislature on a platform of instituting reforms and reviving economic opportunities.

Angel campaigned to make the race a referendum to reject the brand of D.C. politics that has characterized Gov. Jay Inslee’s first year in office, a serialized drama of parliamentary showdowns orchestrated for maximum theatrical value to the Democratic base.

In that sense, the attacks against Angel may have had the effect of demonstrating that by giving Schlicher a genuine electoral victory they could expect more of the same.

Attacks from liberal Democratic groups such as Fuse Votes (who boasted in email communications that their entire staff bivouacked in the 26th district during the final week of the race, to no avail. Their pitch to would-be donors was that electing Schlicher might revive hope that a progressive agenda on social issues and tax increases could be realized.

For the first time in memory in a legislative race, the negative political onslaught was led by an out-of-state wannabe kingmaker, California billionaire and aspirant environmental change agent Tom Steyer.

The campaigns of the candidates themselves spent nearly $1.2 million, but it was Steyer’s unlimited money channeled through his NextGen Climate Action Fund Political Action Committee to a network of smaller PACs that comprised the real campaign, one that was not as much pro-Schlicher as it was brutally anti-Angel.

Almost an additional $2 million was spent by PACs, the vast majority of which was spent against – not in support of – either candidate. Angel was by far the target of the most negative spending. Anti-Angel PACs spent a little more than $800,000, while anti-Schlicher PACs spent almost $657,000.

$455,000 of those anti-Angel dollars came from Steyer. There is little doubt that amount would be been much higher if not for the reporting done by Washington Focus and the actions of the Washington State Republican Party and others to shed light on a late $3 million infusion of cash into the state by Steyer, a money dump that violated the letter of state campaign finance law.

Following our initial report of the apparent illegal activity, the Washington State Republican Party filed a formal complaint with the State Public Disclosure Commission. Prior to the conclusion of any investigation, Steyer dissolved his PAC and ceased spending money on campaign here, though there is nothing to stop him from returning to fund Democratic candidates in hopes of advancing a radical climate change driven policy agenda.

But Steyer’s agenda is still being fought over in Washington. Job-providing port expansion will be opposed by true believers within the environmental community in which Steyer is ideologically at home. Inslee’s plan to fully impose cap and trade-like environmental regulations will ultimately require a state Legislature custom-built for passage of enacting laws. It is unlikely Steyer will stop “investing” in politicians in Washington in order to achieve his goals. Therefore, the willingness of the WSRP to quickly and aggressively act to steer public attention to Steyer was instrumental in dulling the impact of his smear campaign against Angel was an important statement gesture, and only the state party could have done it.

Despite the hijinks surrounding the out-of-state money spent to attack Angel, the greatest lesson may actually come from disparities in positive spending. PACs supporting the candidates were more lopsided in their activity. Although campaign professionals will tell you that public polling stating that negative ads work, the Schlicher campaign appeared to have forgot that pro-Schlicher spending was also part of a winning solution. Angel’s friends spent money to tell voters she was the right choice in far greater amounts than did Schlicher’s benefactors spend to spread the good word about him, a ratio of four pro-Angel dollars spent for every pro-Schlicher dollar.

Is Angel’s victory a bellwether or an outlier or none of the above? Only time will tell.

Related Articles: In the News
Comments (0)

Washington State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz will be stepping down in February and four candidates are now in the race to replace him, and whether Democrats will make a choice for a center-left leader in advance of a possible Republican wave election year in 2014 is uncertain.

Pelz’ announcement in late September that he would not serve out his current term came after a chaotic year in which he:

  • excommunicated former State Auditor Brian Sonntag from the party for embracing free market ideas and for choosing to work with the right-leaning Freedom Foundation;
  • witnessed the election of Susan Hutchison as chairwoman of the State Republican Party; and
  • supervised petty-minded fratricidal attacks on moderate Democratic state Senators Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, including requests that they be censured from party activities. (Sheldon’s wife’s request to Pelz that he “put on [his] big boy panties” and learn to accept compromise was one of the year’s most memorable Democratic diversions.)

The Pelz era was characterized by bombastic language and partisan antagonism – one notoriously rabid blogger at the ultra-liberal The Stranger characterized Pelz as a partisan “hack” – there may be little reason to assume that his successor will be cast from a vastly different mold.

Joel Connelly at Seattlepi.com reports that the current declared candidates vying to succeed Pelz are Jim Kainber, former party executive under Chairman Paul Berendt, Nancy Biery, a former aide to Sen. Maria Cantwell, Jay Clough, an activist from the Tri-Cities area, and Dana Laurent, former political director of Planned Parenthood Votes-Northwest and current executive director of the Win/Win Network.

Progressive victories on such issues as same sex marriage, marijuana legalization, and election of an unadulterated liberal Democrat to the governor’s office have almost certainly enhanced the progressive caucus’ clout. In that regard, Laurent might represent a change from the tactics employed by Pelz, but not a change in overall strategy; a transition in tone, but not ideology. The grassroots must always be fed.

From Joel Connelly’s article at Seattlepi.com:

“Dana Laurent is a former political director at Planned Parenthood Votes-Northwest, and currently heads Win/Win, which her announcement describes as “the strategic hub for over 50 different organizations in the progressive community.” It is a group that has worked for to replace at-large elections for local offices, and supported creation of majority-minority districts.”

In fact, Connelly’s description minimalizes Win/Win’s role in advancing the agenda of progressive Democrats a great deal and in doing so understates what Laurent’s candidacy represents.

The Win/Win Network run by Laurent is an “investment” of the Progress Alliance of Washington, a registered nonprofit corporation. Win/Win itself is also a nonprofit, though it routinely appears as a vendor to political campaigns in campaign finance disclosures primarily for work done to reach out to voters and building out voter databases.

Win/Win also houses the Ballot Initiative Network, a project that now appears to be mothballed but that was created to pass Initiative 1098, the 2010 attempt to create a state income tax.

Win/Win was also heavily involved in influencing the 2011 state redistricting process, lobbying aggressively for the creation of so-called majority-minority districts. (A majority-minority district is one in which minority residents represent a majority of the population.) Win/Win and OneAmerica were the chief architects of a campaign to pressure redistricting commissioners to create majority-minority congressional and legislative districts. Their efforts were successful.

During their 2011 redistricting effort, the group worked hand in hand with OneAmerica. Recently, OneAmerica organized disruptive protests at Washington State Republican Party headquarters and the Spokane office of Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers over immigration policy.

Win/Win and OneAmerica coordinated speakers to deliver scripted testimony at public hearings held across the state to push forward the idea of creating a majority-minority legislative district in the vicinity of Yakima and redrawing the 9th congressional district to encompass portions of South Seattle, Renton, South King County and North Pierce County for the same purpose.

(In just one hilarious instance, citizens in Wenatchee read photocopied statements urging for a majority-minority congressional district in King County that they assured was vital to their interests.)

The group also runs civic|space, a 3,000 square foot office complex in downtown Seattle that serves as the nexus of progressive political action in Washington state. On its website, Win/Win boasts of giving “lower than market rent” to groups such as the Equal Rights WA Education Fund and the Ingersoll Gender Center, and of the turnkey call center that operates on site.

Through the funding mechanism of Progress Alliance, Win/Win is an influential component of a progressive, well-funded Democratic machine.

On ideological points alone, Laurent seems like a candidate passionate liberal Democrats may flock to, and the existence of a woman Republican chair could conceivably make it a two-way race between her and Biery.

Based on a comparison of biographies on each candidates’ campaign website, Biery has typically hugged the center line in terms of her political involvement while Laurent has tracked to the left. If these two figures do emerge as frontrunners in the race to replace Pelz, the ultimate choice by voting members will send a clear message about how Democrats intend to campaign in 2014 and 2016.

Related Articles: In the News
Comments (0)

The Washington State Republican Party has filed a complaint with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission alleging that a $3 million political contribution made this week by California billionaire Tom Steyer violated state campaign finance laws.

The WSRP’s complaint filing follows the Washington Focus article published Tuesday that revealed Steyer’s hefty cash dump into the NextGen Climate Action Committee political committee. This blog was the first to ask questions about the legality of the $3 million contribution occurring after the state’s 21-day deadline for large dollar contributions. The article stated:

Steyer’s political action committee – NextGen Climate Action Committee Sponsored by Thomas Steyer – show that on October 18 he contributed $3 million to special PAC he set up to spend large sums of cash to influence Washington state politics.

October 18 is 19 days from November 5, otherwise known as Election Day 2013. …

According to the PDC website, during the three weeks before an election, it is illegal for anyone to give more than $5,000 to a political committee.

In addition to making the decision to file a full complaint to the PDC, State Republican Party Chair Susan Hutchison wants to know how one of Steyer’s prime benefactors in this election cycle, state Sen. Nathan Schlicher, will respond to the allegations. In an official release, Hutchison said:

“Senator Nathan Schlicher needs to answer this question: will you repudiate this illegal spending by an outside donor or do you want the people of Pierce and Kitsap County to be represented by someone bought and paid for with illegal out of state money? Which is it? Today I call upon the PDC to do their job and protect the integrity of our election process by filing an injunction to stop Tom Steyer from using his illegally contributed money to attempt to buy the election for Senator Schlicher.”

According to records filed with the PDC, Steyer’s political committee has been a high roller donor to Schlicher’s campaign, giving a total of $455,000 to a conglomeration of PACs that have been targeting voters in the 26th district with attacks against Republican challenger Jan Angel.

Angel has scheduled a press conference for Thursday morning.

Here is the entire press release issued by the WSRP:

BELLEVUE, WA – Today, the Washington State Republican Party (WSRP) filed a complaint with the Public Disclosure Committee (attached to this release) for illegal contributions and urged that they file an immediate injunction to prevent Thomas Steyer’s committee from spending that money in Washington State. San Francisco Billionaire Tom Steyer dumped $3 million into the “NextGen Climate Action Committee” last Friday, October 18, 2013 blatantly and purposefully thwarting the state’s 21-day prohibition of contributions above $5,000.

WSRP Chair Susan Hutchison released the following statement:

“Senator Nathan Schlicher needs to answer this question: will you repudiate this illegal spending by an outside donor or do you want the people of Pierce and Kitsap County to be represented by someone bought and paid for with illegal out of state money? Which is it? Today I call upon the PDC to do their job and protect the integrity of our election process by filing an injunction to stop Tom Steyer from using his illegally contributed money to attempt to buy the election for Senator Schlicher.”

The WSRP calls on Nathan Schlicher to repudiate this illegal $3,000,000 contribution made by his largest financial supporter. Does Nathan Schlicher want a citizen of San Francisco to choose the next senator from the 26th district using illegal campaign funds?

Steyer’s committee has poured $250,000 into the She’s Changed PAC, which is spending more than $1 million against Jan Angel in the LD 26 special election in Port Orachard and Gig Harbor. In addition, Steyer’s committee has dropped $275,000 into the Washington Conservation Voters, which in turn has contributed $150,000 to She’s Changed PAC and $55,000 to the Kennedy Fund – the soft-dollar committee of the Senate Democrats which has dropped another $217,000 into She’s Changed PAC. All told, Steyer’s committee has funneled $455,000 into She’s Changed PAC and into attempting to buy this election for Senator Schlicher. Mr. Steyer is already the single biggest contributor to a legislative campaign in our state’s history, and it’s clear that he’s not through spending his Wall Street money on this race.


Related Articles: In the News
Comments (0)

Has Tom Steyer – California-based billionaire and aspirant Koch Brothers-like financier of “green energy” politics – broken Washington laws regarding political finances? Based on information obtained by Washington Focus, there is good evidence that may be the case.

Reports filed with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission on Monday by Steyer’s political action committee – NextGen Climate Action Committee Sponsored by Thomas Steyer – show that on October 18 he contributed $3 million to special PAC he set up to spend large sums of cash to influence Washington state politics.

hera.pdc.wa.gov 2013-10-22 23 16 57

October 18 is 19 days from November 5, otherwise known as Election Day 2013.

That fact may seem trivial, but read on because the number of days between California-based Steyer’s $3 million cash dump into Washington state politics and Election Day (and Steyer’s failure to count them) could loom large in the most watched campaign in Washington state, the race for state Senate in the 26th legislative district between Republican Jan Angel and Democrat Nathan Schlicher.

That’s because based on a plain English reading of PDC rules, Steyer appears to have broken the law in a way that could open the door for all but a tiny amount of those funds to be disallowed for use in the 2013 election cycle.

For the bulk of each election cycle, individuals are allowed to contribute an unlimited amount to political action committees, but those rules change dramatically in the final weeks of campaigns.

According to the PDC website, during the three weeks before an election, it is illegal for anyone to give more than $5,000 to a political committee. From the PDC website’s page regarding contribution limits:

During the 21 days before the general election, no contributor may donate over $50,000 in the aggregate to a candidate for statewide office, or over $5,000 in the aggregate to a candidate for any other office or to a political committee.

Remember what we wrote above: October 18 is 19 days from November 5, Election Day 2013. We counted (an amazingly simple task); Steyer apparently did not.

Related Articles: In the News
Comments (1)

California billionaire Tom Steyer has ambitions to become the “green energy” equivalent of the Koch Brothers in terms of political influence. Washington state appears to be his chosen proving ground, specifically the pivotal 26th district state Senate race between Republican Jan Angel and Democrat Nathan Schlicher.

Washington Focus wrote about Steyer in September after Angel’s significant primary election victory over Schlicher, finding that the political action committee he formed had already poured $150,000 into the early phase of the race. Now, Steyer has spent at least $400,000 to fight off the serious challenge by Angel to take away a Democratic seat in the Senate. A victory by Angel would further tip power to the Republican-led Senate Majority Coalition Caucus that advanced a tax-averse, reform-minded agenda during the 2013 legislative sessions.

Of course, Steyer’s money is working to buy television ads, mail pieces, and other elements of a political hurricane aimed at Angel, but what is all that cash in pursuit of?

Bloomberg dubbed Steyer the “Climate-Change Batman” earlier this year when writing about his involvement in the Democratic primary in the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts to replace John Kerry. Sources tell us that his tactic of pitting Democrats against each other on the issue of support for the Keystone XL pipeline was so impactful in Massachusetts that he made enemies of both candidates in the early race. The Boston Globe called Steyer a “bully.”

Now he has set his sights on interfering in Washington state’s internal politics and it begins with attempting to save Schlicher from defeat. Steyer’s attempt to put his footprint on the Legislature comes as Gov. Jay Inslee has begun to turn up the heat on his own climate change agenda, including an announcement this week by Inslee that he will propose a statewide cap on carbon emissions.

Inslee’s (and Steyer’s) expectations for passage of an extreme climate change agenda become much lower in the event of an Angel victory. It is logical that an increased Republican hold on the state Senate and control over the legislative process in that body earned by a GOP gain would create a formidable roadblock between Steyer and Inslee and their goals regarding energy policy.

Related Articles: In the News
Comments (1)