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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."

Wealthy Donors Behind Anti-Corruption Ballot Measure

Colin Fogarty
Northwest News Network files

Sponsors of Initiative 1464 on Washington’s fall ballot say they’re trying to limit big money influence on Washington politics. The initiative is a 23-page overhaul of Washington’s campaign finance and lobbying laws.

It would close a tax exemption to fund public financing of some campaigns, restrict the revolving door between state service and lobbying, and limit how much lobbyists and state contractors can contribute to candidates.

But it’s who’s behind the initiative that might come as a surprise.

Represent.Us, a Massachusetts-based non-profit that calls itself the “nation’s largest grassroots anti-corruption campaign.” It’s put $300,000 into I-1464.


Another $375,000 came from Washington, D.C.-based Every Voice. So who’s funding these groups?

Donors include wealthy individuals and foundations. Represent.Us Director Josh Silver acknowledged the irony of relying on big contributions to combat money in politics.

“We either embrace the irony and move ballot initiatives that are expensive and win that way or we give up and say government is dysfunctional, it’s corrupt, it’s not representing the public interest and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Silver said.

Silver said Washington was chosen this year, in part, because of its poor performance on a national transparency and accountability report card put out by the Center for Public Integrity. Three of Represent.Us’s national board members also live in Washington state.

Represent.Us is backing a similar ballot measure in South Dakota this year. Silver said his organization’s donors see this effort as part of a larger 50-state strategy “to bring government integrity to all 50 states and eventually to Washington, D.C.”

Financial support for I-1464 has also come from Connie Ballmer, wife of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. She contributed $500,000. The Ballmer Family Fund is also a top donor to Represent.Us.

Other high dollar contributors to the campaign are New York businessmen William Von Mueffling, president and CEO of Cantillon Capital, and Jonathan Soros, CEO of JS Capital Management.

Washington’s initiative has been endorsed by the League of Women Voters, the Faith Action Network and WashPIRG, among others.

Opponents of I-1464 include former Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag and former Attorney General Rob McKenna. They say the measure puts “politicians before kids” by closing a tax break for out-of-state shoppers and putting the money toward public financing of state legislative candidates instead of toward education funding.

The campaign against I-1464 has raised $20,000 from the Washington Food Industry Association and the Associated General Contractors of Washington.

Washington voters have a history of enacting government reform measures at the ballot. In 1972, voters approved Initiative 276 establishing the state’s Public Disclosure Commission. Then in 1992, voters passed Initiative 134 enacting limits on campaign contributions.

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."