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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Woodward leads in campaign money; Stuckart criticizes ‘push’ poll

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart kicks off his campaign for Spokane Mayor, Thursday, March 7, 2019, in front of supporters at the The McGinnity Room event hall. Stuckart says a questionable campaign practice known as a push poll is contacting voters with misinformation. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Contributions to Spokane’s mayoral candidates aren’t setting a record, but are running ahead of most previous campaigns at this point in the race.

Former television news anchor Nadine Woodward is the only mayoral candidate in the crowded field whose contributions have hit six figures. Public Disclosure Commission reports filed this week show Woodward collected more than $115,000 since joining the race about two months ago. She’s spent about $55,333.

City Council President Ben Stuckart, who has been in the race for more than a year, reported contributions of nearly $75,000. He has spent about $41,000.

On Friday, Stuckart sought to boost his contributions with a claim that the Woodward campaign was using some of its money for a questionable practice known as a push poll. He later had to back off when the political consultant he said was behind the push poll denied it.

A spokeswoman for the Woodward campaign also said they weren’t polling on Stuckart.

In a fundraising email to supporters, Stuckart claimed “a Cathy McMorris Rodgers political consultant wants to know how nasty and untruthful they need to be to keep you from voting for me.” The email described a poll in which a caller asked whether the person would vote for Stuckart if they knew he did things like raising taxes or giving himself a raise.

“They want to know what to say to change your vote and that message will be used on you and your neighbors to try and convince you to let an unqualified, far-right candidate control the Spokane Mayor’s Office,” Stuckart said in the appeal for contributions.

Stuckart didn’t mention Woodward by name in the email, but in a later media interview he claimed the poll was being conducted by Stan Shore, a consultant from Olympia who has been active in Spokane races for decades, sometimes with controversial tactics to support conservatives and Republicans or oppose liberals and Democrats.

Shore operates Datagraphics, which did some early consulting for the Woodward campaign. But Shore said Friday his work involved help with the launch of the campaign. He hasn’t worked for Woodward since mid-May, he said.

“I’m not doing anything in Spokane politics right now,” Shore said.

Abra Belke, the Woodward campaign’s executive director, said Shore isn’t currently working for the campaign and never did any polling for it. They paid for one poll, from another organization, and didn’t ask any questions about Stuckart.

“We genuinely don’t know what he’s talking about,” Belke said. “We have nothing to do with it and no knowledge of it.”

Stuckart said he was contacted by a supporter who said she was called for a survey, and after about 10 minutes of what seemed like standard political questions the caller started to ask the “Would you vote for Ben Stuckart if” questions. After he posted something about the poll on Facebook, he was contacted by other supporters who said they, too, had been called.

Stuckart said he made the assumption it was Shore because Datagraphics is listed on Woodward’s expenditure reports. But Shore later contacted him Friday and said he had nothing to do with the poll.

“I was drawing the inference. I’ll take him at his word,” Stuckart said.

If not the Woodward campaign, it could be an independent expenditure group, Stuckart said. “Nobody does that for fun.”

Better Spokane, a conservative pro-business political action committee that made independent expenditures against some of Stuckart’s council allies in 2017, isn’t doing a push poll, Michael Cathcart, its treasurer, said Friday. It’s busy collecting signatures for two city ballot measures it wants to get on the November ballot.

No group or individual has reported an independent expenditure for Woodward or against Stuckart to the PDC. But Shore said they wouldn’t necessarily have to at this point, if they are using the poll to decide whether to contribute to a candidate. They wouldn’t have to report it unless they shared the results with the candidate, he said.

Woodward and Stuckart lead the five-candidate mayoral field in contributions at this point. The other three candidates haven’t reported all contributions through May yet, but based on their most recent filings, Shawn Poole has raised $15,645 and spent $8,061; Jonathan Bingle raised $3,704 and spent $1,546; Kelly Cruz has raised $2,000 but hasn’t reported any spending.

Between the two of them, Stuckart and Woodward have raised more than the top two candidates in 2011 and 2007. Even with their totals added together, they trail incumbent Mayor David Condon’s campaign totals in May 2015, which were nearly $286,000 in contributions and $129,000 in expenses.