Among the most thankless jobs in the world is that of a political candidate in Washington state in the weeks before the August primary.
The ability to continue the noble quest for elective office depends on voters who are just returning from vacation, on vacation or preparing for vacation.
Yet the code of conduct for Spokane candidates, which is etched in stone inside the stovepipe hat of the Lincoln statue at Monroe Street and Main Avenue, says a candidate must:
• Knock on at least 100 doors a day and leave leaflets inside the screen door at the 90 residences with no one home. (Leaflets should be left in a way that passers-by can’t tell that no one is home from all the leaflets piling up at the door.)
• Wave a sign on a busy corner from 7 to 9 a.m., and on another busy corner from 4 to 6 p.m., every weekday.
• Send out a “mailer” to every voter in the district that shows you smiling with your family. If you don’t have a family, you may substitute a small group of friends and supporters provided it includes at least one senior citizen, one member of a recognizable minority community and one school-age child.
• Denounce any ad an opponent produces as a “hit piece” and defend any ad your campaign produces as “a valid comparison designed to educate the voters about my opponent’s stands.”
• Complain that the media just doesn’t cover politics the way they used to, which is another way of saying they don’t devote enough attention to you specifically.
All this for an election in which about one voter in three will return the ballot mailed to them two weeks ago. So be kind to candidates you might see for the next 48 hours. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.
A modest proposal
Almost every year someone proposes a way to tweak campaign finance laws to keep elections a bit more honest. Here’s one that would be relatively easy to justify and enforce:
If a candidate has no opposition at the end of filing week, he or she cannot accept any more campaign money, and no individual donor, business, union or political action committee can give money to a candidate who has no opponent after that date.
This idea is prompted by a recent perusal of the Public Disclosure Commission website, which shows several candidates in Spokane and around the state are unchallenged yet continue to raise money.
Rep. Kevin Parker, a freshman Republican who beat a Democrat two years ago in the 6th District, could reasonably be worried about a difficult challenge this year, so it’s not surprising he’d raised almost $100,000 before filing week. But even after he got no opponent, he continues to raise money, and some of the big players, like the PACs for the bottlers, homebuilders, doctors, teachers, troopers, as well as tobacco and pharmaceutical companies, “maxed out” with $800 contributions.
Rep. Matt Shea, another GOP freshman running unopposed this year, continues to get contributions from folks who have to know he’s a shoo-in. That, or the folks who hand out the campaign money for the Gun Owners Action League, the Insurance and Financial Advisors PAC, the auto dealers, Physicians Insurance and Waste Management aren’t paying attention.
There’s nothing illegal about this, for the giver or the getter. The candidates can spend on signs, billboards or TV spots as though they had an opponent, or redistribute the wealth to like-minded but less fortunate souls who have real contests.
But it tends to make a contribution seem less like a statement of candidate choice in the current election and more like a payment for past actions. And it’s pretty hard to justify as a real campaign contribution.