A $40,000 TV ad paid for by an out-of-state political group attacks state Rep. Sharon Wylie for having been a registered lobbyist in Washington state and for allegedly supporting tax increases and accepting tobacco money while she served as an Oregon state legislator in the 1990s.
The ad was paid for by a Washington state political action committee newly formed by a national group, the Arlington, Va.-based Republican State Leadership Committee. It began running Oct. 2 on cable TV. Because of the committee’s tax status, the new PAC is not required to disclose its donors.
Wylie, a Democrat appointed to a vacant 49th District seat last spring, faces Republican Craig Riley in the Nov. 8 election to fill the unexpired term of former Rep. Jim Jacks. She says the attack ad includes “misleading and false statements” and violates Washington campaign disclosure law by failing to state the political party preference of either candidate in the race.
The House Democratic Campaign Committee filed a formal complaint with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission on Monday, calling for an investigation into the ad campaign. PDC spokeswoman Lori Anderson confirmed that state law requires all campaign ads to state the party preferences of candidates named in the ads.
As an independent expenditure made on Riley’s behalf, the $40,000 ad buy is reported to the PDC separately from Riley’s own campaign spending and is not within his campaign’s control. However, Wylie has called on Riley to denounce the ad and ask the sponsoring group to immediately pull it.
“Washington state political donors have to abide by strict campaign finance regulations to minimize special interest abuse of our political system,” she said in a statement. “This ad violates these protections.”
Riley said he would not ask for the ad to be withdrawn.
“I certainly don’t have any authority to tell the group what to do,” he said. “But they do need to comply with state and federal law.”
Portrayed as big spender
The ad portrays Wylie as a big spender while she served in the Oregon Legislature from 1993 to 1998, representing Gresham’s House District 22.
Among its claims is that Wylie was “bankrolled by big tobacco” when she backed a 1995 initiative that required insurance companies to cover treatment provided by qualified osteopaths, chiropractors and naturopaths if they covered those same treatments when provided by medical doctors. The tobacco industry made a large contribution to the initiative campaign.
Wylie said the ballot measure cited “was not a pro-tobacco measure. In fact, it was an initiative that I co-sponsored with two Republican legislators to require fair treatment of providers by insurance companies. Many of its provisions are now incorporated into health plans in Oregon and Washington through popular demand.”
The ad also claims that Wylie “accepted special interest gifts.”
“I, along with several community leaders, toured several state-of-the-art paper recycling and lumber facilities via helicopter to better understand sustainable forest practices,” she said in a statement. “These were remote facilities and required unusual transportation. A sandwich lunch was involved. The gift total was $785, mostly because of fuel and pilot expenses.”
The ad also claims Wylie supported “job-killing tax hikes,” citing two bills she voted for.
She said she actually voted against one of those measures on final passage — a routine federal-state income tax synchronization bill — and the other had nothing to do with “killing jobs.”
“It would have provided much-need funding for drug and alcohol treatment programs,” she said. “It was supported by the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program Directors Association of Oregon, Community Mental Health Providers Association of Oregon, Association of Oregon Counties, Association of Community Mental Health Programs, Coalition of Local Health Officials, (and) Community Action Directors of Oregon,” among other organizations.
As for her background as a registered lobbyist in Olympia, Wylie did not apologize.
“My lobbying work involved representing Clark County and other local governments,” she said. “In this work, I helped establish the Clark County Center for Community Health, landed the state crime lab for Vancouver, and secured funding for the Salmon Creek interchange, which supports 600 jobs.”
Riley said he was unaware of most of the allegations in the ad, though he had heard that Wylie took special interest money while serving in the Oregon Legislature.
“It is appropriate for her to defend” her record, he said. “I’m glad she clarified where she stood.”
He said his ads will point out that Wylie had an opportunity to take a pay cut when she was in the Oregon Legislature but didn’t. “She takes one now but didn’t take one then. That will be in our own ad,” he said. “I don’t think we should ever attack the person, but we do need to address her voting history.”
As of Tuesday, Wylie had raised $139,415 and spent $102,995. Riley had raised $52,519 and spent $38,455, with $700 in debt.
The Republican State Leadership Committee, founded in 2002, identifies itself on its website as the only national organization whose mission is electing Republicans to the state offices of attorney general, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and state legislator. It claims to have more than 10,000 donors from all 50 states who support its “pro-growth agenda,” including reforming the tax code, health care and legal systems.