In local legislative contests, outside spending reshapes races

November 27, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

Issaquah Democrat Mark Mullet raised $315,166 in the race to represent Issaquah in the state Senate and garnered 36,630 votes throughout the 5th Legislative District.

The total raised amounts to about $8.60 per vote for the ubiquitous campaign mailers, yard signs and TV spots, and online advertising in Mullet’s successful race against Snoqualmie Republican Brad Toft.

Toft collected $306,599 and received 30,683 votes districtwide — or about $9.99 per vote.

The race between Mullet and Toft — a contentious contest to succeed former state Sen. Cheryl Pflug — attracted statewide attention and outsized fundraising.

On the Web

Search candidates’ fundraising and spending records, find donors and examine independent expenditures in local races at the state Public Disclosure Commission website, www.pdc.wa.gov.

Records from the state Public Disclosure Commission — a nonpartisan agency responsible for collecting financial data from political candidates and ballot measure sponsors — illustrate the importance put on the contest by state Democrats and Republicans.

But the totals raised by the Mullet and Toft campaigns do not offer a complete picture.

The influx of cash into the race from independent efforts neared the amount raised by both candidates. Overall, independent expenditures to support and oppose Mullet and Toft topped $530,000 — or 39 times more outside money than donors dropped during the district’s last contested state Senate contest, a 2008 match-up between Republican Pflug and Democrat Phyllis Huster.

In the contest between Mullet and Toft, independent expenditures to oppose both candidates outstripped the amount to support the contenders 5 to 1.

Lori Anderson, communications and training officer for the Public Disclosure Commission, said the increase reflects a trend in legislative races across Washington.

Statewide, “every year is slightly higher than the last” for independent spending in campaigns, she said.

“There may be a few more people spending, or each of them are spending a little bit more because it didn’t work so well for them the last time,” she added.

In the neighboring 41st Legislative District, independent groups spent lavishly to bolster state Senate candidates Steve Litzow, a freshman Republican incumbent from Mercer Island, and Mercer Island Democrat Maureen Judge.

Issaquah is divided between the 5th District — a combination of suburban and rural areas from Maple Valley to Snoqualmie Pass — and the 41st District, a suburban swath from Mercer Island to Sammamish.

In the Issaquah-area races, the candidate who raised the most money claimed victory on Election Day, but the independent expenditures against a candidate did not necessarily mean victory for the challenger.

The $96,348 in independent expenditures to unseat Litzow almost matched the outside spending directed at Judge, positive and negative, and the independent expenditures to boost Litzow — $99,572.93.

The independent spending deluge increased in recent years as outside groups rely on unlimited donations to influence legislative races. Under state law, a direct donation to a legislative candidate is limited to $1,800 — $900 for the primary and another $900 for the general election.

State law does not limit donations to independent efforts, so corporations, labor organizations, political action committees and other groups can spend unfettered on behalf of — or against — candidates.

Statewide, legislative candidates raised a little more than $25 million. In addition, independent expenditures crested $5.9 million to support and oppose candidates.

The information on file at the Public Disclosure Commission includes candidates’ fundraising and expenditures through Oct. 29, eight days before Election Day. The campaigns must file another report on Dec. 10 to cover November activities.

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