A multimillionaire running for the state’s top education job is spending so much of his own money he may set an election-year record.
Experts who monitor campaign spending say they can’t recall anyone topping Ron Taber, a candidate for superintendent of public instruction.
Starting last year, Taber has spent $678,000 on his 1996 campaign and two initiatives. He’s funneled more than $380,000 into his own campaign and nearly $300,000 into the initiatives.
“That is an astonishing amount for a candidate to spend on their own election,” said Samantha Sanchez, a director at the Western States Center, a nonprofit group that tracks campaign donations.
“If there’d been any spectacular sum greater than Taber’s, I would’ve recalled it by now,” said Paul Gillie, a retired researcher who worked at the state Public Disclosure Commission for 17 years.
Taber’s contributions account for nearly half of the $812,577 that 149 state candidates together have donated to their own 1996 campaigns, Sanchez said.
“Everybody else is peanuts,” she said.
Gillie remembers just one Washington candidate spending more on a single race - Elaine Houghton, who barely lost a 1992 state Supreme Court justice race after spending $397,000.
Taber, 54, has another week to top that, even if he doesn’t win in the primaries.
Taber is an ultraconservative landlord, rancher and critic of current public education policies running against 10 other candidates. He explains his big spending as mere generosity.
“I’m giving it as a gift to the state of Washington,” said Taber, a Republican who lives near Olympia. “I’m offering myself.”
Rivals say Taber, who has few big-name contributors, is simply out to buy the race and destroy public education.
“He could just buy his way into office,” said Dan Brady, who runs the campaign for candidate Chris Vance, also a Republican.
“We’re raising traditional amounts of money in this race. Ron’s blown the doors off that with his own pocketbook.”
Taber’s biggest expense was $93,000 in postage for the full-color cards he mailed to 600,000 voters. The cards cost another $43,000.
“I’ve probably spent $20,000 buying lists from list brokers,” he said, explaining how he gets addresses.
One of those lists targeted some 3,000 gun owners, and Taber wrote a four-page letter warning them that the state’s biggest teachers’ union is after their guns.
“The anti-gun, anti-American leftists have grabbed our classrooms,” he wrote. “Instead of learning centers we now have indoctrination sessions being paid for with your tax dollars.”
The letter ended with Taber’s concealed pistol license number.
Taber spent another $266,613 for a school vouchers initiative he helped get on the ballot.
He also spent $31,614 on a measure to repeal affirmative action that didn’t get enough support to make it on the ballot.
Taber said opponents who claim he’s buying the race are just jealous.
“I’m buying it with my sweet time and every fiber of my body as well as the money I’m able to give to it,” he said. “I think it’s sour grapes.”
Taber’s main competitors, Vance, 34, and Terry Bergeson, a 53-year-old Democrat, say Taber is a dangerous radical out to gut public schools.
His actions have grabbed plenty of attention.
Superintendent Judith Billings publicly rebuked Taber after he called Spanish the language of doormen, fruit pickers and dishwashers in a speech criticizing bilingual education.
Rivals also blasted him after he called for weekly caning for juvenile drug dealers who won’t reveal their suppliers.
Voters will see more of Taber’s political beliefs in the voucher initiative he sponsored on the November ballot. That would let parents use tax money to send their children to private schools.
Bergeson has complained about Taber’s spending habits in the past, but Friday dismissed them as inconsequential.
“I don’t think anybody can buy a race like this in this state,” she said.
But Sanchez, who directs the Money in Western Politics Project, said Taber’s money will doubtless give him a giant boost, especially in such a hotly contested race.
“The candidate who spends the most money, with rare exception, does win,” she said.
“In politics, spending a great deal of money seems to be the secret to getting elected.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: CONTROVERSIAL CAMPAIGNING In a mailing to gun owners, said of a teachers union: “The anti-gun, anti-American leftists have grabbed our classrooms.” Called Spanish the language of doormen, fruit pickers and dishwashers in a speech criticizing bilingual education. Called for weekly caning for juvenile drug dealers who won’t reveal their suppliers. Sponsored an initiative on the November ballot that would let parents use tax money to send their children to private schools.
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