Citizen Editorial: Political Contributions Tell A Story

As a frequent user of the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) website, I read the recent article in the Mason County Journal with interest. It provided various break-outs of political contributions to our legislative candidates which if it had used correct information and/or been presented differently would have provided much better information to voters. I will first address the incorrect data, then present the same data with a different look, and finally question why facts were misstated and presented in the fashion they were.

First, the article completely misstates the contributions unions have made to the candidates. A red flag immediately was raised when the total number for all unions reported for one candidate was less than the amount given by one union (SEIU) on my last review of the PDC data. The Journal said of Irene Bowling “She has also received $1,400 from unions …” When in fact, she has received $9,250 from unions, and another $3,446 from union PACs. This total is based on only those obviously union from contributor names, and therefore does not include union contributions to other less-obviously named PACs. The Journal reported Kathy Haigh union’s contributions were $3,350, when in reality they totaled $4,400 with another $950 from union PACs, at a minimum. Most of these donations were from unions representing public employees, and therefore attempting to directly influence those who are there to represent the taxpayer.

I also question the presentation of the data. The Journal reports the percentage of dollars that came from out of state. They reported out-of-state percentages ranged from 0.3% (Griffey) to 16.2% (Sheldon). I did not check their numbers since this is really not a good measure of a candidate’s strength or loyalty. As an example, the “bogeyman” Walmart is an out of state contributor, even though it conducts business, has employees, and is a member of the community of the 35th district. Contrast that with a trial lawyer in Seattle, who is in state, but has no connection to the 35th district other than using their money to get a pro-Seattle legislator elected. I believe a much better measure is the percentage of dollars from within the legislative district. This number gives a completely different picture. Non-incumbent candidates showed interesting results, Dan Griffey had 89% contributions from within the district, with Travis Couture close behind at 73%. Then a drop to 58% for Josiah Rowell, a large drop to Irene Bowling with only 40% of her contributions from within district and badly trailing is Tammey Newton at only 5% from the 35th district. As you would expect, incumbents received more out-of-district contributions; however, those numbers are also interesting. Drew MacEwen has received 43% of his contributions from within the district, followed by Tim Shelton with only 24% in district, and at the bottom is Kathy Haigh with only 22% of her contributions from the 35th. (All PDC numbers from download on 7/25)

Now for the final question, why did the Journal get some of the data completely wrong and present other data in the way they did? The PDC article was front page and lengthy, with fancy color pie charts and everything! I will leave that to you to think about; however, this again reinforces the need for each individual to check out information from any source and become an involved citizen and voter.

Bob Rogers
July 25, 2014