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Campaign money pours into Washington state races days before election

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, right, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger, Bill Bryant, left, take part in a debate, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, right, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger, Bill Bryant, left, take part in a debate, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

SEATTLE – More than $136 million in campaign contributions have poured into Washington state races as voters on Nov. 8 decide on Gov. Jay Inslee’s re-election bid against Republican Bill Bryant, six ballot measures – including the nation’s first carbon tax – and dozens of statewide and legislative offices.

About one-third of contributions have come from individuals, but the majority has come from corporations, unions and other political committees, according to state campaign disclosure reports as of Thursday.

Here’s a look at who is giving, and where the money is flowing, in this year’s state election:

Last minute deluge

Donors have pumped about $9 million into races during the 21-day stretch before Tuesday’s election, according to state Public Disclosure Commission reports.

The largest check cut during that timeframe was $350,000 by Service Employees International Union Local 775 to support Initiative 1501, a measure it wrote and has nearly single-handedly bankrolled. The initiative would stiffen penalties for financial crimes against seniors but opponents call it a thinly veiled effort to protect its union membership.

Meanwhile, the fight over the carbon tax initiative has heated up with new money raised on both sides of Initiative 732. An opposition effort organized by the Association of Washington Business racked up $600,000 in recent weeks with big dollars from the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, Kaiser Aluminum and Puget Sound Energy. Not to be outdone, the political committee Audubon Washington raised more than $1 million since it formed a few weeks ago, with top money from Texas billionaire John Arnold and his wife.

Top contributors

Seattle-area venture capitalist Nick Hanauer earns the No. 1 spot with a total of $1.8 million in individual campaign contributions in 2016. He gave directly to support two measures: Initiative 1433, raising the statewide minimum wage and Initiative 1491, related to temporary protection orders preventing access to firearms.

Connie Ballmer, chair of philanthropy at The Ballmer Group and wife of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, is runner-up with $1.2 million. She backed the campaign finance reform Initiative 1464 and gave big this year to Stand for Children Washington PAC, a pro-charter school group.

The top 20 donors accounted for about one-fifth of total individual contributions in the 2016 election cycle.

Outside money

Outside groups have played a key role in a number of state legislative races as Republicans try to maintain their slim advantage in the Senate.

Political committees set up independent of legislative candidates have raised nearly $12 million, compared with nearly $9 million in 2014.

In the Senate, 26 of 49 seats are in play. Yet nearly half of the outside spending so far has been concentrated in just four contests, including districts in east King County, the Vancouver area and Pierce County.

Two of those hotly-contested seats have pulled in the most contributions and independent expenditures: Vancouver’s 17th district, where Democrat Tim Probst and Republican Rep. Lynda Wilson are fighting for an open seat, and King County’s 41st District, where incumbent Republican Sen. Steve Litzow is in a tight race against Democrat Lisa Wellman.

PACs giving to other PACs

The Harry Truman Fund, a committee tied to the House Democratic Campaign Committee, has so far contributed $2 million to other committees in this election cycle. Most of that money was given to another committee, New Direction PAC, which has spent money to oppose Republican state legislative candidates. Who is backing the fund? Washington Education Association PAC and SEIU Washington State Council.

The Reagan Fund, meanwhile, has contributed $1.4 million, most of it funding the Community Progress PAC, which has spent money to oppose Democrats in state legislative races. The top contributors to the Reagan Fund? The Republican State Leadership Council and developer Clyde Holland, CEO of Holland Partner Group.