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

Spin Control: Ranting donor’s cash still hard to give up

Several court decisions make clear that political contributions are protected political speech, so in most cases donors are free to make them. Missing from all the discussions about the kinds and limits of the donations, however, is the responsibility of the people on the other end of the campaign money train.

Along with the right to take gobs of money, don’t recipients have a duty to check out who is giving?

Vetting people who give $10 obviously isn’t practical, and it might take the great minds of politics to determine what the trigger for a background check should be. But certainly when one accepts a five-figure check, some campaign staffer should be ordered to find out the bare-bones 411. That may have saved the state Democratic Party some headaches, and a case of the flip-flops, last week over some $60,000 it received in recent months from JZ Knight.

Knight and her followers believe she channels the spirit of a long-deceased warrior named Ramtha, and have set up shop in Yelm, a rural community between Olympia and Mount Rainier. There she runs the Ramtha School of Enlightenment, which some people regard as a path toward a better life and others regard as a cult.

Not so enlightened, some of her former adherents say, are her views on Catholics, Jews and homosexuals. Recently they began posting video clips of Knight/Ramtha denigrating each, sometimes in obscenity-laced diatribes. A spokesman for Knight told the Associated Press the heavily edited clips are taking out of context comments she made about sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.

The state Republican Party hit this hanging curve ball, sending out links to the videos the former followers were producing, and demanding in the most principled tones it could muster that the Democrats give back the tainted cash.

The Democrats could have easily done that, taking the fairly easy out of noting that the donor for their chunk of cash was listed as Judy Knight, president of JZK Inc., and hey, that could’ve been almost anyone. Besides, the videos weren’t available when the check came in, but now that we’ve seen them, the money’s going back.

Instead, they initially refused, trying to fight umbrage with umbrage, saying who are the Republicans to get on some high horse about anti-gay comments when their party and their gubernatorial candidate oppose the same-sex marriage measure on this fall’s ballot. This continued for several days.

“Obviously, we don’t condone the kind of divisive comments you see in the video,” party spokesman Benton Strong told my colleague Jonathan Brunt during a stop last Thursday in Spokane. Asked if the party would be returning the money, he replied, “Not at this time.”

The time came Friday night, after the GOP turned up a new round of videos with anti-gay and anti-Mexican comments.

“Recently, we have been made aware of comments made by a contributor to the Democratic Party that do not reflect the values of our party,” state Chairman Dwight Pelz said. “While we did not solicit any contributions from JZ Knight at any point, it is important that we make it clear that we view her comments as offensive and do not condone this kind of vitriol.”

They’re not giving the money back. Getting politicians to return money may be harder than getting them to refuse it. Instead, the party will split the money from Knight between the Anti-Defamation League and the Referendum 74 campaign, he said. Not clear yet if filtering Knight’s money through the party makes it OK for those groups.

Timely election reminder 1

Monday is the last day to register to vote in Washington. To do so, you must register in person at your county elections office and you’ll need a state-issued ID or the last four digits of your Social Security number.

Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton also suggests showing up early. In 2008, there was a big rush at the end of the last day. The office at 1033 W. Gardner Ave. closes at 4 p.m., and anyone not in line by then won’t be allowed to register.

Timely election reminder 2

Wednesday is Halloween. While most people regard it as a time to raise the blood sugar levels of small children, it is also a time when older children wander around looking for trouble to get into.

Among the easiest targets for such mischief are campaign yard signs. While it may infringe slightly on your First Amendment rights of political speech, it might be wise to uproot your signs Tuesday and store them in a garage, basement or backyard until Thursday.

If you don’t, and something happens to them, don’t call the newspaper to report some deep plot by the opposing candidate or issue campaign to steal your sign.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items, reader comments and video at Links to some of the Knight videos are posted there; note that they contain graphic language.