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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Gov race most expensive in WA history

OLYMPIA -- Even without the final spending tallied, this year's governor's race was the most expensive in state history and outside independent groups spent a record amounts trying to convince residents to vote against Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna.

Post-election reports filed this week with the state Public Disclosure Commission show the Inslee and McKenna campaigns spent a combined $25.7 million in the race to be Washingon's next governor. With other candidates eliminated in the primary, and by incumbent Chris Gregoire before she opted out of the race, spending hit nearly $26.2 million, passing the record set in 2008 by nearly $1 million.

Inslee and McKenna still could list more spending in the next month or so because neither filed a final report.

Republican McKenna, a two-term state attorney general, spent more, about $13.66 million, in his losing effort. Democrat Inslee, who resigned his congressional seat before his term ended, spent about $12.1 million.

Also up this campaign season was spending by independent groups both for and against the two candidates. Most of it went for television commercials that blanketed the airwaves in the fall.

Led by the Republican Governor's Association, independent groups spent $9.3 million against Inslee. They also contributed heavily to some $1.2 million spent for independent ads supporting McKenna.

On the other side, a group calling itself Our Washington, which collected large sums from the Democratic Governors Association and organized labor, spent almost $9 million against McKenna. Washington Conservation Voters and the Service Employees International Union led groups that spent more than $825,000 supporting Inslee.

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As in past campaign years with statewide offices on the ballot, the governor's race was the most expensive in 2012. Recognizing this, the PDC traditionally ranks it by itself, and lists the records for other statewide elections.

2012 came close to setting records there, in the attorney general's race between a pair of King County councilmen, Democrat Bob Ferguson and Republican Reagan Dunn. As in the governor's race, Ferguson spent a little bit less but won, $1.58 million to Dunn's $1.61 million.

McKenna spent about $1.9 million in 2008, and a crowded field in 2004 spent almost $3.4 million.

But independent spending by outside groups for or against Dunn and Ferguson did set a record for a race outside of the governor's office. An arm of the national GOP, the Republican State Leadership Committee - Washington, spent more than $2.5 million in an unsuccessful effort to stop Ferguson. The Washington Committee for Justice and Fairness, an arm of a Washington, D.C., group that says it "promotes discussion of interests critical to America's middle class" and gets its money from the Democratic Attorneys General Association, spent about $900,000 against Dunn.

With issues like same-sex marriage, legalized marijuana, charter schools and tax restrictions before voters, spending on ballot measures was high but not a record.

Eight different groups filed to run campaigns in favor of Referendum 74 and same-sex marriage, spending a total of $14.3 million, but the largest share, about $12.6 million, was spent by Washington United for Marriage. Preserve Marriage Washington spent about $2.8 million trying to defeat the measure.

Charter school supporters, led by some of the state's high-tech millionaires, spent about $11 million to get Initiatve 1240 on the ballot in record time and pass it. Opponents, led by the teachers unions and other members of organized labor, spent about $700,000 trying to defeat it.

Supporters of legalized marijuana spent more than $6 million on Initiative 502, against minimal campaign opposition.

The campaign to extend the two-thirds majority needed in the Legislature to pass tax increases spent about $1.2 million, although most of that was to pay people to gather signatures needed to put it on the ballot. Opponents, primarily union groups, spent about $93,500 in an unsuccessful effort to defeat it.  

The record for spending on a ballot measure was set last year on an initiative to take the state out of the wholesale and retail liquor business. Costco and a few other retailers spent about $17.6 million to support Initiative 1183. 

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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