Costco pours $22 million into liquor campaign

Initiative 1183 most expensive ballot measure in state history

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OLYMPIA — Costco Wholesale Corp. has shattered records for initiative spending, dumping more than $22 million into a plan that would privatize Washington state’s liquor sales and distribution system.

Reports filed with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission show that Costco committed another $8.9 million to the campaign Monday. The Issaquah-based company has provided almost all the funding for the plan while a national wholesalers group has provided much of the opposition money, which now totals over $11 million.

The company has repeatedly declined to discuss the initiative with the Associated Press, referring questions to a spokeswoman who represents a coalition of groups pushing the measure.

With more than $34 million committed to both sides of the campaign — nearly $10 for every registered voter — Initiative 1183 is also the most expensive ballot measure in state history. The American Beverage Association previously held the record as the highest initiative donor for providing nearly $17 million to help repeal tax increases on soda and candy last year.

Costco contributed nearly $5 million to a liquor privatization plan that voters rejected last year. The new one adds new restrictions to who can sell liquor and increases revenues for government.

Opponents of the measure believe it would make liquor too accessible, particularly in places that don’t have a good track record of barring sales to minors. They also worry that a provision allowing retailers to work directly with distillers — bypassing wholesalers — would disrupt a longstanding system and allow large companies a competitive advantage.

Tuesday marked a key deadline for campaign donations. Financial backers are now limited to donations of no more than $5,000 until the election.

Campaigns for the other two initiatives on this year’s ballot have raised far less money. A group opposing Tim Eyman’s anti-tolling measure has raised $2.2 million while supporters of the plan have brought in $1.4 million, most of it from a single Bellevue developer.

The Service Employees International Union has provided much of the $1.7 million for an initiative that expands training and background checks for long-term care workers. An opposition group has raised about $100,000.