Local news

Disputed election is costly for parties

Washington state’s ongoing governor’s contest has dragged into expensive double overtime, prompting the two major political parties to each raise and spend more than $1 million since Election Day on everything from lawyers and polls to extended salaries for campaign workers.

By the time the state Republican Party’s lawsuit for a new election goes through a trial and appeals, they could spend another $1 million.

Democrats have tapped union sources and national liberal groups such as MoveOn.org, as they posted a $730,000 bond for a hand recount of nearly 3 million votes and argued election laws in the state courts.

Republicans are drawing money from longtime business allies in telecommunications, construction and health care for their recount costs and the lawsuit challenging Democrat Christine Gregoire’s 129-vote win over Republican Dino Rossi in the hand recount.

Both received some of their biggest contributions from their respective governors’ associations in the weeks after the November election. But as the fight continued, the state parties have been forced to raise unusually large sums of money during a traditionally slow fund-raising period.

“Dino and I are constantly on the phone,” said state GOP Chairman Chris Vance earlier this month about the need to raise money for the revote fight.

The parties and their lawyers spent part of Friday morning in Chelan County Superior Court in Wenatchee, where Judge John Bridges scheduled depositions for King County elections officials for mid-April. A timetable for the trial over GOP allegations that some votes should be thrown out and a new election ordered will be discussed on April 5.

Legal bills on the Republican side already have topped more than $1 million, Vance said. Much of the costs of the two recounts were picked up by the Republican National Committee and the Republican Governors Association. But the state party is carrying most of the financial burden of the current lawsuit that seeks to overturn Gregoire’s victory.

“Since Jan. 1, we are paying for all of this,” Vance said. “They have not closed the door on helping us, but going to court to contest an election usually doesn’t work.”

He expects this case to be the exception, rather than the rule. But the legal tab could run another $1 million before the case is finished.

Democrats have also spent more than $1 million on legal fees, state Democratic Party Chairman Paul Berendt said. If, as expected, the case goes to trial later this spring, he expects to spend at least another $400,000.

Berendt feels Democrats may have the tougher sales job in trying to raise money because Gregoire has been sworn in as governor.

“Many of our supporters feel there’s no need to give; she’s won,” he said. “But this court case is like nuclear proliferation. Which organization is going to be able to sustain the fight?”

Beyond the legal fees, both the parties and the candidates have kept nearly a full contingent of campaign workers in place after Election Day, augmenting their numbers throughout November and December as two separate recounts required partisan observers in the elections offices of the state’s 39 counties.

Expenses reported to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission include everything from pizza and meals for recount workers and banners for various rallies to ad campaigns to bolster public sentiment and polls to measure it. A handful of GOP workers were shifted from the Rossi campaign to the state GOP’s payroll, then back to Rossi, where most recently they have been trying to find voters who cast ballots illegally because they had been convicted of a felony and not had their rights restored.

The Rossi campaign is also carrying some $240,000 in potential debts on its books for “contingent victory bonuses” it owes key campaign staff members and consultants if he should win. Top campaign aides signed contracts that promise them bonuses ranging from $5,000 to $15,000, and media consultant Scott Howell & Co. of Dallas would pocket $165,000.

John Gastil, an associate professor of communications at the University of Washington, said bonuses are a standard incentive in campaigns. He’s surprised the Rossi staff didn’t get their bonuses after the Republican was declared the victor in the first tally.

“Bonuses are not unusual, but the circumstances here are unusual,” said Rossi spokeswoman Mary Lane. Typically, victory bonuses are delayed if there’s a recount, she said, and that became likely before counting stopped on election night.

What is unusual, Lane said, is not knowing whether they will be paid some five months after the election. Under state law, the campaign must continue to report them as a potential debt until the case is settled.

Gregoire’s campaign closed out its books last year, and is not covering any of the expenses of the revote. Rossi also had to pay off the expenses for 2004, then file for a new campaign cycle, listing the new operation as Rossi 2008. That’s to meet state rules to separate donations and expenses for upcoming campaigns from the costs of past campaigns, Vance said, not an indication that Rossi expects this effort to take another three years.

In his latest campaign newsletter, Rossi includes a link to the state party’s Web site, with a suggestion that readers click on the “donate” link to help pay the costs of the election challenge.



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