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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Small donations add up in state races

Gifts of $20 could sway Inslee-McKenna contest

Adam Lewis and Annalisa Bliven Murrow News Service

At a time when big money is flooding into campaign coffers, Washington state leaders are seeing another trend: small money.

In the race for the governor’s office, a Seattle social worker donated 49 cents. A woman in Elma, Wash., donated 2 cents. A Spokane woman chipped in $2. Dozens of citizens across the state have donated $1, $3 or $5.

The role of such small political donations is increasing in the state, according to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission, which tracks election donations.

“One dollar may not seem like a lot, but if you get enough people and add all of it up, it can make a difference,” said Lori Anderson, a spokeswoman for the state’s campaign auditing database.

Anderson said individuals donating less than $20 could potentially make an impact in the race between Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee.

David Nice, a Washington State University political science professor, said small donations can account for up to 30 percent of a politician’s budget in a given year.

“You get somebody who’s got some widespread appeal among people who can’t afford to give $10,000 … if you’ve got a whole bunch of those people each giving $20 or even $10 it can add up to a very substantial amount of money,” he said.

Washington’s public disclosure law requires candidates running for public office to document every campaign donation once their total cash contribution exceeds $5,000. Through Friday, Inslee and McKenna have raised more than $20 million combined in their bid to replace Gov. Chris Gregoire.

That includes donations ranging from six-figure gifts from political parties to tiny donations from around the state. McKenna’s campaign alone has received more than 60 donations of $1 or less in the current election cycle. By comparison, Inslee – who has raised more than $10 million – received only five donations of $1 or less, according to the PDC. However, Inslee’s campaign has received more than 50 donations of $3 or less.

Phyllis Todd, a 75-year-old Spokane resident, said she donated to Inslee numerous times because he represented her political views. The retired minister pledged $5 in November, $18 in December, $20 in January, and $10 in May.

“Jay Inslee is a good Democrat and I’m a good Democrat,” she said.

Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for the Inslee campaign, said contributions from voters represent more than just a dollar figure. Those donations help voters feel more invested in the campaign.

Charles McCray, communications director for McKenna, said, “Rob is humbled and incredibly appreciative of the generosity of our donors. Each supporter must decide for themselves how they can best help Rob achieve success in his bid for governor. We are energized by the contributions, volunteer time and encouraging words.”

Elmer “Ned” Johnston, a retired attorney from Everett, is one of those donors. In August, GOP campaigners representing McKenna asked him to donate.

Johnston, 77, said it prompted him to read through newspapers and watch television to learn McKenna’s stance on key issues facing the state.  After analyzing his platform, Johnston decided to make a small donation.