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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane County Measure 1: Opponents to new jail tax buck trends, seriously outraising supporters

Causes and candidates supported by conservatives are outraising and outspending the progressive opposition in nearly every race in Spokane this year. But not so for Measure 1, a 0.2% sales tax proposal on the general election ballot that would, in part, pay for two new jails, where the progressive opposition has outraised supporters 12 to 1.

The anti-Measure 1 Justice Not Jails committee has raised over $520,000, compared with around $41,000 raised by the pro-Measure 1 committee Jobs For Justice, which was named in reference prevailing wage jobs that could be created by the substantial investment in the criminal justice system.

If approved, Measure 1 would generate an estimated $1.7 billion over 30 years. Spokane County has said it plans to spend about $540 million on two new jails, though it’s unclear how the remaining $1.1 billion would be spent.

Per state law, 60% of the money brought in by Measure 1 would go to Spokane County, and the remaining 40% would be distributed to municipalities on a per capita basis.

In effect, about $1.05 billion would go to the county, $405 million to Spokane and $188 million to Spokane Valley. The region’s smaller cities and towns would receive far smaller, but proportionate, shares. Per state law, governments would have to spend their money on criminal justice, public safety and behavioral health projects.

Justice Not Jails is led by Chair Justice Forral, Vice Chair Stanley Harewood, Campaign Manager Angel Tomeo Sam and executive committee member Robert Huitt. The four have little experience running political campaigns, Sam said in a Tuesday interview, but are individually active in various community organizations, such as Spokane Community Against Racism, Yoyot Sp’q’n’I, All Of Us Or None and Greater Spokane Progress.

Many involved in the Justice Not Jails committee have been previously incarcerated or otherwise have experience with the criminal justice system, Sam noted.

“We have a lot of people who were formerly incarcerated, families of those incarcerated, people who have been subjected to the criminal legal system, families that would be affected by an increased sales tax,” she said.

Sam and supporters of Justice Not Jails have argued that it was important to center the voices of people directly affected by the criminal justice system, but the committee leadership has also drawn criticism. A website created by Robin Ball, former chairwoman of the Spokane County Republican Party, conservative blogger and ally to Mayor Nadine Woodward, targeted the committee and highlighted the criminal history of some of its key members.

Harewood has been a primary subject of this criticism. In 2002, Harewood was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of 3-year-old Pasheen Raya-Bridges. According to reporting at the time, Harewood was one of three men arrested for opening fire near the girl’s home and killing her during an attempt on a man’s life in an incident of suspected gang violence.

“Stanley Harewood has done his time,” Sam argued. “Here’s somebody who’s been through that, through a lifestyle that stems from poverty and social issues in his life growing up, who wants to share his experience, in a way I think is courageous.”

Members of the anti-Measure 1 committee have reasons for their opposition, Sam said: Some are skeptical of how the money would be spent, while others, including Sam, oppose expanding the jail system at all, preferring instead that investments be solely focused on alternatives to incarceration.

“A new jail is the last thing that we need,” Sam said. “If (supporters) were really concerned about public safety and our criminal justice system being so backlogged and folks sitting in jail and courts running slow, there are alternatives to that.”

The vast majority of Justice Not Jail’s funding came from the Spokane-based Empire Health Community Advocacy Fund and the Seattle-based Inatai Foundation, which each donated slightly over $240,000 to Justice Not Jails. The Seattle-based Fuse Innovation Fund donated another $20,000.

The Empire Health Community Advocacy Fund is a registered 501(c)(4) nonprofit partner to the Empire Health Foundation, the region’s largest charitable organization and the organization contracted by the state Department of Commerce, then led by Spokane mayoral challenger Lisa Brown, to manage the Camp Hope homeless encampment.

The Community Advocacy Fund was spun off in 2019 using $20 million from a settlement with Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, which the Empire Health Foundation sued over allegations that the for-profit hospital chain failed to meet its commitments to provide adequate levels of charity care.

“It is true that when the Empire Health Foundation was initially stood up, and during initial phase of development, there was this idea of neutrality and not getting involved in a political space,” said Zeke Smith, president of the Empire Health Foundation since 2020. “I think this shifted when the board decided to create a c4.”

A nonprofit formed as a 501(c)(3), such as the Empire Health Foundation, has significantly stricter limitations on its ability to advocate for a ballot measure than a 501(c)(4).

The Community Advocacy Fund has only donated one other time to a political committee, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission, providing $20,000 in 2022 to efforts to pass a Whitman County hospital bond. This year’s sizable donation marks a shift under the leadership of Jonathan Teeters, who has served as policy director for both the Empire Health Foundation and Community Advocacy Fund since November 2022, he said in a recent interview.

“Measure 1 was rushed onto the ballot,” Teeters said. “Even its conservative detractors articulated there’s not much of a plan – it’s essentially a blank check to elected officials with the promise they’ll make the investment they say they’ll make.”

Smith said Empire Health had not taken an official stance on whether the organization’s opposition to Measure 1 was over a lack of guarantees on how the money would be spent or more directly a belief that investments to expand the county’s jail system would be a misuse of public funds.

“The baseline is, it’s not well-crafted, but it’s kind of both,” Smith said. “Just increasing resources to the carceral system and law enforcement is not, we believe, best practices on how you address these issues.”

The Inatai Foundation, which has total assets of over $2 billion, was formed from the proceeds of the sale of the Group Health Cooperative to Kaiser Permanente and aims to “ensure equity and racial justice” by primarily donating to community organizations, according to the group’s website. A number of the community organizations involved with creating the Justice Not Jails committee have previously been grantees of Inatai, Sam said.

“This harmful measure seeks to expand the county’s jail system in direct opposition to public will and proven research on more effective, equitable solutions,” the Inatai Foundation wrote in an Oct. 25 blog post. “If passed, Measure No. 1 would reinforce a system that continues to devastate communities of color and people living with low incomes in Spokane.”

The group has only made one other donation to a political committee, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission. That $25,000 donation was made earlier this month to Neighbors United for Progress, a Dayton, Washington-based group trying to counter the influence of the Columbia County Conservatives in a bitter fight over the role of local government in that rural community, including over whether to close the county’s only public library.

The Jobs For Justice committee is led by co-chairs Jennifer Thomas, who works as the government affairs director for the Spokane Home Builder’s Association, and Mark Howard, a retired Spokane police officer.

Thomas, who said she is working for the committee in her personal capacity as a mother of four daughters, believes the investments Measure 1 could provide are desperately needed.

“When I look at Measure 1, I see it as the only way there’s going to be a funding stream for, not only the building, but also the programming needed to keep victims safe and protected,” she said. “I’m pro-programs. I’m also pro-accountability.”

But Jobs For Justice has struggled to raise even a tenth as much money as have its rivals. Thomas declined to articulate why she believed that was.

“Anytime you have questions like that, you should follow the money,” she said.

Measure 1 is nearly universally supported by more conservative candidates for local office, including Woodward, and opposed by their more progressive opponents, including Brown. But the ballot measure has failed to receive the business support that has bolstered other conservative efforts, such as the Spokane Good Government Alliance, a political committee wielding unprecedented fundraising to support Woodward and other right-leaning candidates.

One of the Alliance’s most significant supporters, local developer Larry Stone, has specifically criticized the county’s plans to use Measure 1 funding to build a jail downtown as opposed to next to the existing Geiger Corrections Center at the western edge of town.

Editor’s note: This article was changed on Nov. 1, 2023 to correct the spelling of the Spokane Home Builder’s Association and to specify that developer Larry Stone has criticized plans to build a new jail downtown, suggesting instead that it should be built at the western edge of town.