With Election Day four months away, the race for Spokane County prosecutor is on pace to top fundraising records for the office.
Democrat Breean Beggs and Republican Larry Haskell have not yet cleared what amounts to a ceremonial top-two August primary, yet the two have collected about $87,500, according to public disclosure reports.
That’s more than the nearly $60,000 raised in 2010’s contest for prosecutor, a four-man race won by Steve Tucker. Haskell and Beggs also are threatening to eclipse the $125,000 mark set in 1994, the last time an incumbent did not compete for the office.
The fundraising was vigorous in the 1994 campaign, as a pair of deputy prosecutors, Jim Sweetser and Steve Matthews, vied to replace longtime officeholder Donald Brockett.
In November, deputy prosecutor and Air Force veteran Haskell will run against Beggs, who worked in private practice on the West Side before joining Spokane’s Center for Justice in 2004.
This year’s atypical campaign finance totals in the prosecutor’s race are made more impressive given the caps placed on an individual’s contributions. While unions and other organizations gave upward of $6,000 to candidates in 1994, current election laws limit individual and group donations to $1,900 per candidate.
Haskell said last month he has the advantage of knowing the personnel within the prosecutor’s office and being able to hit the ground running, should he be elected.
“I am able to step into the office, on the first day, and do the job,” Haskell said in an interview. “My opponent, of necessity, is going to have a learning curve.”
That familiarity with personnel has earned Haskell campaign contributions. He’s received cash from several employees in the prosecutor’s office, according to disclosure reports, including incumbent Tucker and other division heads.
Haskell also has garnered the financial backing of the Spokane Police Guild and the Fraternal Order of Police, in addition to contributions from individual members of the Spokane Police Department.
David Stevens, now head of the public defender’s office for the Colville Confederated Tribes and one of the candidates who vied to replace Tucker in 2010, also gave more than $900 to Haskell. Stevens, who was a colleague of Haskell’s in the prosecutor’s office, called Haskell “level-headed” and said his years in the office would help determine when and whether to file charges in certain cases.
“Part of the job is discretion,” Stevens said. “You need someone with a lot of experience for that.”
Among other individual contributors to Haskell were Sweetser, the former prosecutor and Democrat, as well as Spokane attorney Robert Cossey, who has represented several Spokane law enforcement agents.
Beggs has represented the families of several people killed in confrontations with local law enforcement. He has been publicly questioned about whether those lawsuits would harm his professional relationship with police investigators, who act as principal witnesses in presenting criminal charges in court.
“I think what people in Spokane want is a prosecutor’s office that, if the police commit a crime, they will prosecute them,” Beggs said in an interview last month. The Whitworth University alumnus said his track record, including his civil work on the Otto Zehm case, indicates he’ll sue law enforcement just as anyone else who breaks the law.
Beggs’ coffers include contributions from Alan Creach, son of Spokane Valley pastor and businessman Wayne Scott Creach, who was shot and killed by Spokane County sheriff’s Deputy Brian Hirzel in August 2010. The Creach family took a settlement last summer in a civil lawsuit against the county in the shooting death.
Alan Creach said Monday he gave to Beggs’ campaign because he wants a shakeup in management at law enforcement agencies in the area.
“I don’t think Breean’s a guy that’s going to go with the status quo,” Creach said.
Among other individual contributors to Beggs’ campaign are Democratic Party stalwarts, as well as several local law firms.
Beggs also received money from at least one Spokane County public defender. As part of the so-called “Blueprint for Reform” Beggs helped develop with the Spokane Regional Criminal Justice Commission last year, the candidate has called for greater communication between the prosecutor’s and defender’s offices to determine which offenders are candidates for alternative sentencing programs, such as drug court and early case resolution, a court designed for people unlikely to reach a jury trial.
The November election will provide a chance for Spokane County residents to indicate they want these and other reforms in the prosecutor’s office, Beggs said.
“It really is going to be a choice between status quo or change,” he said.
Haskell said he supports alternative sentencing options called for in the blueprint that are already in place. He also said the prosecutor’s office could benefit from additional exposure to the community.
“The first priority for me, in terms of launching into a successful year, is to be more visible in the community,” Haskell said. “I think we can do a lot better.”