For the last week or so, the Columbian has been waging a campaign against Jeanne Stewart on behalf of her opponent for Clark County Commissioner, Craig Pridemore. The argument that the County’s former paper of record is peddling to any of their shrinking readership that will listen is that Republican PCO Clyde Holland and County Commissioner David Madore are in cahoots on a scheme to buy Jeanne Stewart’s candidacy for their own nefarious purposes. At the center of their conspiracy theory is the fact that the Washington State Republican Party, and Stewart’s campaign have reported in-kind donations totaling $89,000 to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission. Apparently, the WSRP paid for some media buys on behalf of Stewart’s campaign, and they both dutifully reported the transactions to the PDC.
A few observations:
1. The WSRP is a ‘bonafide political party’ as provided for in numerous RCWs. According to the PDC website the limits for contributions to various county offices are set at $.95 per registered voter per election cycle. This means that, according to the laws governing political party contributions, the WSRP could donate in excess of $230,000 to any Clark County race. Our current political system is specifically designed to accommodate just such a donation as is under discussion. Why are there bonafide political parties? To fund candidates, among other things.
2. The Columbian has made much of the WSRP’s decision to dedicate such a large amount to Jeanne Stewart’s campaign, particularly given the large donations that Holland, and to a lesser extent Madore, have made to the state party. While I would never expect the prejudiced editors to do this, I ask you as the reader to imagine you are the leaders of the WSRP in charge of distributing funds to various candidates statewide. Imagine that one of your biggest donors every year is Clyde Holland from Clark County. He donated $90,000 this year and at least $70,000 in 2012. Where would you choose to distribute most of those dollars? The Columbian would have us believe that the only proper thing to do would be to give it all to a school board race somewhere in Okanogan County. Doesn’t it seem reasonable that if you want to maintain that fundraising relationship with a major donor, then you are going to support races from his county?
So now, look at the races in Clark County. Where are Republicans really hoping to make gains? The two main races, as I have identified months ago in other posts, are County Commissioner (Stewart) and 17th LD State Representative (Lynda Wilson). These are the two races where Republicans have a strong chance of gaining seats and investment will actually increase chances of winning. Lynda Wilson has already received $86,500 from various elements of the Republican party, including the House Republican Organizational Committee, the 17th Legislative District Republican Committee, and the Clark County Republican Party. So who is left to help if you are the WSRP? Lynda Wilson, whose fundraising has already eclipsed $270,000, or Stewart, who had raised less than $50,000 up to that point? The choice is pretty obvious.
3. The Columbian would have us believe that the WSRP simply handed funds over to the Stewart campaign. This is not the case. I spoke with a representative of the Stewart campaign who made it very clear that they had absolutely no control over the expenditure or input regarding the content of the ads. While people may object to the campaign funding structure currently in place, this is how both Democrats and Republicans do it every single election.
4. If Holland was really trying to find a candidate on the take that he could buy, Jeanne Stewart is the worst investment he could make. This is a woman who formerly supported the CRC and then changed her mind after identifying numerous problems. Her act of conscience cost her a seat on the C-Tran board after Mayor Leavitt and the rest of the city council quickly replaced her, and ultimately, it cost her the seat on the Vancouver City Council that she had occupied for years. The idea that she can now be bought simply doesn’t fit the profile that her years of public service have demonstrated. The more likely explanation is that Republicans are supporting someone who has already demonstrated a similarity in values. Stewart is a known quantity, and her work has earned her the respect of the Republican party at all levels.
5. Where was the scrutiny from the Columbian last year when the slate of pro-CRC Vancouver City Council candidates nearly all tripled the fundraising of their conservative counterparts, including Alishia Topper raising $56,519.43 to Jeanne Stewart’s $19,331.16? It seems odd that they would remain silent on that gross funding disparity, and yet, all of a sudden, they launch into a frenzy when a Republican slightly outspends her opponent so far this year. The headlines about ‘Who Owns Jeanne Stewart’ are really over the top in light of last year’s Democrat spending spree, which resulted in a clean sweep for the pro-CRC slate. It reminds me of a scene from my favorite movie:
The Columbian is very often the beneficiary of ad buys for local county races. Is it possible that their main beef is that Republicans are spending less money with them and more with the Reflector, whose influence and readership has gained ground significantly in the last two years?
As with most ‘October Surprise’ attempts just before an election, I expect a lot of public gnashing of teeth and threats of ethics violations filings that play well in public, and then nothing will happen after the election because everything was actually done exactly the way it is supposed to work according to the current legal structure. Political parties exist for a reason, their unique status in terms of fundraising is provided for in Washington law, and they are used for this purpose all the time by both parties. While a great case can be made that too much money from rich people is going into our political system, it is ridiculous of the Columbian to only squeal and scream when Republicans are the beneficiaries. Any pretense they may have had about objectivity in reporting is gone at this point. They are on a mission to help Democrats and Establishment Republicans win, and unlike Jeanne Stewart and the WSRP, they refuse to report their media-related in-kind donations to the PDC. Who knows, but maybe we can find a former state senator to file an ethics violation.