OLYMPIA – In an effort to get voters to end the state's liquor monopoly, Costco this week made the largest contribution in history – nearly $9 million – to a state ballot campaign.
The discount retail giant based in Issaquah, Wash., nearly doubled down on its contributions this year to the Yes on Initiative 1183 campaign, on which it had already spent more than $12 million through cash contributions and in-kind services such as employee time for gathering signatures in less than a month to get the proposal on the Nov. 8 ballot…
…Of the $22 million collected by the campaign, some 95 percent has come from Costco.
Washington voters experience what that money can buy every time they turn on a television or radio. Reports on file with the state Public Disclosure Commission show the campaign purchased some $9.5 million worth of advertising, mostly television and radio commercials, since the first of September.
More could be coming. The campaign has another $9.1 million still in the bank with three weeks left until the Nov. 8 election.
Lori Anderson, a spokeswoman for the PDC, said Costco’s contribution, which was reported this week, is definitely the single largest contribution ever made to an initiative campaign. In the past, few campaigns raised that much from all contributors combined.
The company’s big contributions are being targeted by opponents. A recent commercial doesn’t mention Costco by name but does complain that “one big corporation is spending millions of dollars, two years in a row, to completely deregulate our liquor system…they stand to line their pockets with hundreds of millions in increased profits.”
Costco also gave about $4.8 million last year to a different ballot measure that tried unsuccessfully to end the state’s liquor monopoly. It has fought the state for years over changes to the system, which dates to the end of Prohibition. The company has made no secret of its plans to sell liquor at its stores, which currently sell wine and beer, but the campaign has focused on increased revenue for the state for liquor control and enforcement and tougher penalties for selling to minors.
Opponents of the initiative, the Protect Our Communities campaign, have a deep pocket of their own. The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, a trade organization for liquor distributors, which has contributed nearly $9.4 million, or about 81 percent of the No campaign’s total of nearly $11.5 million.
Liquor distributors oppose the initiative in part because it would allow Costco and some other large retail operations like Safeway to set up their own warehousing and distribution system for liquor, potentially cutting the distributors out of that part of the business.
That organization gave $250,000 to the campaign against Initiative 1100 last year but the main opposition to that 2010 ballot measure came from beer wholesalers and distributors from around the country who spent about $4.8 million defeating that and another liquor initiative.
As they did last year, opponents, focus their attacks on a sharp increase in stores that would sell liquor and potential consequences of increased drinking by minors.