Political action committee spending this fall has shattered records for independent expenditures in Vancouver City Council races.
Fliers, signs, robocalls and TV ads have proliferated this fall in greater volume than Vancouver has ever seen for a local council race.
Behind them are three PACs: Save Our City, Unite Here and NoTolls.com.
In particular focus are two of the three city council seats up for grabs: Position 4 between incumbent Bart Hansen and challenger Josephine Wentzel and Position 5 between Bill Turlay and Anne McEnerny-Ogle.
Prior to this year, the most independent spending in city council races was $13,002 spread over three candidates in 2007. That high water mark has gone out the window.
Save Our City — formed this year to support Wentzel and Turlay and oppose Hansen and McEnerny-Ogle — has a war chest of $95,159, filings with the Public Disclosure Commission show. Of that, $95,000 was contributed by anti-Columbia River Crossing activist David Madore. Tens of thousands of that money has already been spent, with more likely as the Nov. 8 election nears.
NoTolls.com, also largely funded by Madore, has $66,470 in its coffers. Both PACs also have spent money to fight C-Tran’s sales tax increase for basic bus service.
A New York City-based PAC, Unite Here, spent $32,557 to mail fliers in support of McEnerny-Ogle. Unite Here represents workers in the U.S. and Canada who work in different industries, including the hotel, gaming and food service sectors. Among their members are the workers at Hilton Vancouver Washington, who have been deadlocked with management over salaries and benefits. Local workers have also distributed campaign information on McEnerny-Ogle’s behalf.
In several cases, the special interest money overshadows what candidates have been able to raise themselves.
The $32,557 Unite Here spent for McEnerny-Ogle dwarfs the $9,858 she’s raised. An additional $4,118 has been spent by Save Our City and NoTolls.com to oppose her.
Wentzel and Turlay have seen $13,062 each so far from Save Our City and NoTolls.com — well more than the $5,017 Wentzel’s raised, and more than the $12,493 raised by Turlay as well. (Madore and his wife, Donna, also make up the largest direct contributions to both their campaigns, with $1,600 to Wentzel and $3,200 to Turlay).
The two Madore-backed committees have spent an additional $4,118 each to fight against Hansen, who has raised $13,060, and Councilor Larry Smith, who has raised $18,643. Only Smith’s challenger, Cory Barnes, is yet to have any independent expenditures made for or against his campaign.
Candidates by law cannot know of PAC spending on their behalf beforehand, and so cannot approve or disapprove of any fliers, ads or other materials.
Madore said Monday it’s only natural that campaign spending would reach these heights. He also said he is comfortable using negativity because he believes The Columbian does as well.
He called the spending a tug-of-war between selfish parties, such as public unions and big contractors, and unselfish parties, such as private citizens like himself.
“The new records confirm that for too long, citizens were shortchanged in their defense against the big public unions who succeeded in getting their advocates elected in place of citizen representatives,” wrote Madore in an email.
Candidates’ reactions to the outside money has been mixed: Turlay condemned at least one flier and TV ad put out by Save Our City as overly negative, while McEnerny-Ogle was shocked by the amount spent by Unite Here and said she could win her campaign without the spending.
Madore defended the use of negativity when the fliers were mailed.
“As citizens in this community, we are utilizing the avenues available to address the concerns we have over our government in ways that cannot be ignored,” he wrote Oct. 20.
However, on Saturday he apologized on his Facebook page for Save Our City’s tactics. “I apologize since I am ultimately responsible because I was the main contributor to the PAC,” he wrote. “Please forgive me for some of their messages that were conveyed in a way that I wish were more positive.”
On Monday, he said he had changed his mind, based on an editorial published in The Columbian on Sunday. The news and editorial departments at all newspapers operate separately. Madore also said that he is not on the board of Save Our City, so he cannot speak for them.
“So to be clear and up to date, The Columbian’s latest mocking negative hit piece helped me to realize that we should boldly speak the truth without apology, even when it is negative,” wrote Madore, who does not give verbal interviews. “I realize that The Columbian has a history that is far more negative than I could ever be.”
Unite Here did not return a request for comment.
With one week left until Nov. 8, this election is far from over: Other PACs or further donations may emerge.
If all the money in Save Our City and NoTolls.com’s accounts is spent, then independent expenditures will surpass even the much-moneyed, hard-fought mayoral race between Tim Leavitt and Royce Pollard in 2009.
In that race, three PACs spent $108,939 in independent expenditures. Of that, $51,544 was spent by Unite Here on Leavitt’s behalf, while the PAC 48, another union group, spent $51,900 on Pollard. Another PAC, Build the Vote, put in another $5,495 for Leavitt.