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Following trail of Prop 4 campaign spending turns up twist

Sun., Nov. 1, 2009

Among the talking points hotly debated by both sides in the campaign over the city of Spokane’s Proposition 4 is whether the proposed changes are good or bad for local business.

The talking point on the “Yes” side says a requirement for local banks to reinvest local money in local business will pump more money into the Spokane economy and help mom-and-pop businesses struggling against the national chains and big-box stores. The talking point on the “No” side says that provision isn’t what local businesses need, and requirements for prevailing wages and apprenticeship programs will put locals at a disadvantage against competitors just across the city line.

Talk, as the saying goes, is cheap – although during a campaign, speech covers everything from folks bloviating at forums to literature in the mailbox, TV ads and radio spots. Campaign speech often comes with a payment-due notice from sign makers, print shops, commercial schedulers and consultants.

So the question is, when the campaigns pay for such speech, and anything else they need to convince you of the rightness or wrongness of Prop 4, who spends their money locally, and who spends it elsewhere?

There are three campaign committees in this little dust-up: one in favor, Envision Spokane, and two against, Save Our Spokane and Jobs and Opportunities Benefiting Spokane. A check of the most recent Public Disclosure Commission expenditure reports shows that at last count, one spent about 95 percent of its campaign money in Spokane; one spent 68 percent of its money locally; and one spent 15 percent.

Guess who spent what where?

Now, if one listened extensively to Greater Spokane Inc., an opponent of Prop 4 and the driving force behind those “BUY LOCAL” signs one sees in local business windows, one might guess that the JOBS committee, which has GSI backing, would be the one that spent all but a nickel of every campaign dollar in Spokane.

And one would be wrong. JOBS spent about two-thirds of the $137,000 it reported last month with local – which we shall define as somewhere in Spokane County to avoid being parochial – vendors and consultants. The four biggest checks they wrote, however, went to Moore Information in Portland for polling and Polis Political Services in Olympia for consulting services.

SOS, which has significant financial support from the National Association of Home Builders funneled through its local affiliate, is also reaching outside for about 80 cents on every dollar spent on the campaign through Oct. 17. Much of its printing is done in Monroe, Wash., and its mailing vendor is in Stanwood, Wash.

Envision Spokane, which is under fire from the local business establishment, is the one that is spending the vast majority of its money locally. Admittedly, it’s not all going to local businesses; some goes for wages to local campaign workers. But as economists are fond of telling us, each dollar paid out in wages turns over in the community several times.

The results are the most recent available on Friday, so some last-minute campaign spending may bring the local totals up for anti-Prop 4 forces, or drive it down for the pro-Prop’ers.

Few people cast their vote based on where the sign or mailer was printed, and the address of the messenger isn’t as important as the message. But so far there’s a big difference among the campaigns – all of whom say they know what’s best for local business – when it comes to matching the money with the rhetoric.

Spin Control is a weekly political column by veteran reporter Jim Camden. It also appears as a blog, with daily posts, videos and reader comments, at

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