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November 4, 2005

State ballot measures draw record amounts of cash

Record amounts of cash have gone to statewide ballot initiatives this year in Washington, according to data compiled by a student research team at the University of Washington.

As of Oct. 31, almost $19 million has been contributed to various campaigns. That compares to the nearly $16 million, the next-highest total, collected in calendar 2004.

Three-fourths of this year’s campaign cash — more than $14 million — has gone into the fight over two ballot measures involving malpractice claims and lawyer fees.

The UW student researchers analyzed six years’ worth of campaign contribution records from the Public Disclosure Commission. With Election Day fast approaching, 2005 has already seen the highest total amount of money to initiative campaigns in the state, as well as the largest number of individual contributors.

The study is posted on CampaignAudit.org, a project in the UW Department of Communication that investigates trends in political communication and campaign strategy. Many of those involved in the project are enrolled in an undergraduate course on Communication Technology and Politics taught by Philip Howard, an assistant professor of communication.

More than 2,100 people have contributed to statewide ballot measures this year, at least double the number seen in recent years, Howard’s team found.

Washington’s record year for average contribution size is still 2004, according to the Public Disclosure Commission. This year, the average size of cash contributions is $8,676. But in 2004, the average contribution made by each contributor was $25,327.

A close look at the contributions for this year reveals several surprising trends, the students said.

The researchers found no records of cash contributions to oppose I-900, a performance-audit initiative sponsored by Tim Eyman’s Voters Want More Choices PAC. Permanent Defense, a PAC that often opposes Eyman’s ballot initiatives, has reported no contributions.

The pro-tobacco lobby appeared to be outfunded by its opponents, according to records of contributions to campaigns opposing I-901, a measure that would sharply limit indoor smoking. Only four of more than 30 nationally registered tobacco lobbyists made contributions in Washington state this year, totaling $9,500, according to the researchers. By contrast, anti-smoking groups have donated $1.3 million to the pro-901 campaign.

The researchers made a list of registered tobacco lobbyists and contacted them about their activities in Washington state. A contract lobbyist who asked to remain anonymous told the students that Philip Morris, a major tobacco company, would not campaign for or against Initiative 901.

Whereas the few contributors opposing the smoking ban appeared to primarily be individuals, bars and bowling alleys, there were many contributions from doctors and lawyers recorded to campaigns for and against initiatives I-330 and I-336, the team found.

Hospitals and medical interests have contributed more than $9.1 million as of Oct. 31 for a yes vote on I-330 (limiting malpractice damage awards and capping attorney fees) and a No on I-336 (punishing health professionals for repeat violations). In contrast, the Washington state Trial Lawyer’s Association supported I-336, giving about $773,000, and provided almost $5 million to block the initiative that would cap attorney fees in malpractice cases.


The team found that so far, 79 percent of all the cash contributors on statewide ballot measures in 2005 are to campaigns working on these two ballot measures, and 75 percent of the all the cash contributed have gone to influence their outcome—some $14.7 million.


The students collected data covering registered political action committees for statewide ballot measures but contributions to candidates for elected offices, such as county council.



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For more information, contact Howard at 206-612-9911 or pnhoward@u.washington.edu; Andrea Pollock, CampaignAudit.org student researcher, at 253-468-6564 or andreaep@u.washington.edu ; or Molly Kane, CampaignAudit.org student researcher, at 206-799-3915 or mollyk2@u.washington.edu