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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Debt Collectors Give Big To Senate Republicans

Colin Fogarty
Northwest News Network files

Washington Republicans are working hard this election cycle to hold onto their slim majority in the state Senate. And they’re getting some help from a new political action committee set up by the debt collection industry.

Debt collectors contract with businesses and government to bird-dog people who owe outstanding obligations. In Washington, the Department of Licensing regulates the collection industry. And for years the Washington Collectors Association has had a political action committee that gives to both Republicans and Democrats.

But this year more than a dozen debt collection companies got together and created a new PAC called Strat PAC. They quickly raised $100,000 -- and gave it all to Senate Republicans.

So what’s motivating this sudden and generous giving?

At first, donors to the PAC proved as hard to reach as some of the debtors they try to contact. I left repeated voicemail messages and experienced some long waits on hold where instead of music I got some debt counseling.

Finally, I reached Republican state Sen. Judy Warnick. It turns out she and her husband run a debt collection agency in Moses Lake that contributed to the new PAC. Warnick wanted to avoid a conflict of interest. She said she didn’t write her company’s check and keeps a distance from debt collection issues before the legislature.

But she promised to ask Strat PAC to respond to my requests for comment. Soon after the call I got a statement via email that read in part, “We are a group of small businesses from Washington supporting candidates …. who want to create a less burdensome regulatory environment for these businesses.”

Strat PAC opposes three potential tax hits:

  • A sales tax on services
  • A hike in the Business and Occupation tax
  • A state capital gains tax supported by Governor Jay Inslee.

There’s also concern in the industry about efforts to consolidate court fines -- a move that could take away business from debt collectors.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."