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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Two GOP funders criticize anti-Marr ad

Two associations that gave money to a Republican group that is funding an ad against incumbent Democratic state Sen. Chris Marr criticized the spot and say they will reevaluate their political donation strategies in light of the commercial.

The Washington Health Care Association gave $30,000 to The Leadership Council, which is the fund dedicated to the election of Republicans to the state Senate. The Washington Hospital Association gave $20,000 to the council.

Leadership Council money has funded Spokane Families for Change, a political action committee created this month that paid for a commercial highlighting a 2005 sexual harrassment lawsuit against Foothills Automall. At the time, Marr was a co-owner of the dealership and a named party in the lawsuit. On Saturday, Dawn Fowler, the woman who filed the suit demanded that the ad to be removed from the air, called Marr "a good boss," and said specific allegations regarding Marr in her suit that was quoted in the ad were untrue. She said she contacted Marr after seeing the ad.

"While we cannot stop the misleading and dishonest anti-Marr campaign ads, we want to make it abundantly clear that WHCA did not contribute money to the Republican Leadership Council for the purpose of preventing the re-election of Senator Marr," said Washington Health Care Association President and CEO Gary Weeks in a letter to The Spokesman-Review.

Randy Revelle, treasurer of the hospital association's political action committee, called Marr a "true champion of health care and hospitals," in a letter to The Spokesman-Review. 

The hospital association and health care association, which represents nursing homes, also gave money to the Roosevelt Fund, which is dedicated to electing Democrats to the state Senate. The health care association gave $800 to Marr's re-election campaign.

Revelle said when his group gave to The Leadership Council, he did not know that the money could be transferred to political action committees that would target individual candidates.

Asked why the organization doesn't simply give its campaign money to individual candidates, Revelle said the group has found it important to give to party leadership funds, but that policy will be examined.

"If you want to have access to the leadership, you need to participate in their funding programs," Revelle said. "We just have to decide in the future if we should take that risk again."



Michael Baumgartner, the Republican candidate opposing Marr, said Saturday that he could not comment on the ad because it was not created by his campaign.

Brett Bader, who is acting as the spokesman for Spokane Families for Change, said Monday that "there is no discussion about pulling" the ad.

Bader said the ad simply is quoting from a lawsuit against Foothills Automall.

"These are direct quotes from official court records," said an unsigned statement that Bader confirmed came from the group. "It is not surprising that defendant Marr would now undertake whatever efforts necessary to entice the complainant to renounce earlier statements."

The Marr campaign responded by accusing the group of "attacking" the victim.

"It's just way out of line," said Marcus Riccelli, spokesman for the Marr campaign. "They're playing 'blame the victim' and they're dragging both these families private matters into public light for political gain."

On Tuesday, the Marr campaign also released a statement from Lorraine Barthole, the widow of a former Foothills employee who also was named in the suit.

In 2005, Foothills agreed to pay Fowler $75,000 as a result of the lawsuit. Marr has said Foothills decided to settle the suit quickly because Foothills didn't want the suit to drag on because Barthole's husband was dying of cancer at the time.

"My husband suffered for 1 1/2 years with cancer until he died," Barthole said in her hand-written statement. "And to see the private matter come up in a campaign is very hurtful to me and my children."

Riccelli said that Barthole approached the Marr campaign after hearing that Fowler also had called on the ad to be pulled from the air.

Bader declined to say who is in charge of Spokane Families for Change.

"I'm not really here to discuss strategy, tactics or personnel," he said.

The state Public Disclosure Commission lists Jeffrey Davis, who gave an address in Woodinville, as the group's treasurer.

The Marr campaign also accused Spokane Families for Change of being a front for "big tobacco and big oil" companies. But while Marr hasn't accepted money from tobacco companies, he recently accepted a $500 from the BP North America Inc. Political Action Committee.

Jonathan Brunt
Jonathan Brunt joined The Spokesman-Review in 2004. He is the government editor. He previously was a reporter who covered Spokane City Hall, Spokane County government and public safety.

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