The chairman of a voter education organization said he is sick to his stomach about errors in his group's recent political flier that make it look as if Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, voted in favor of a significant tax increase.
"We are ceasing distribution until we can reprint (the flier) in order to get accurate information out there," said Dan Wood, chairman of a group called the Private Enterprise Project. Wood said he learned of the errors after his organization was contacted by The Columbian.
Probst is challenging state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, for the 17th District Senate seat.
The flier makes it look as if Probst voted in favor of the state's 2010 budget proposal, which included a new tax on candy and soda. The flier also makes it appear as if Probst voted in 2010 to allow legislators to raise taxes with a simple majority vote, rather than a two-thirds vote of approval.
Probst actually voted against both of those proposals, according to legislative voting records.
The flier was left on the doorsteps of several hundred residents in the 17th Legislative District, Wood estimated. He said the mistake must have happened when the graphic designer put together the flier.
"We went back and checked our process," Wood said. "The correct information on Rep. Probst's votes was sent to the graphic artist. It looks like the graphic artist had a cut-and-paste error or (had) some other layout problem."
Wood is a former lobbyist with the Washington State Farm Bureau, a group that typically endorses Republican candidates. Wood described the Private Enterprise Project as a nonpartisan, voter education organization that is "conservative philosophically about taxes and spending."
"We pride ourselves on accuracy; that's why everything is footnoted," Wood said. "I just want Rep. Probst to know we are sorry for the errors."
The fliers will be reprinted with the correct information and distributed in the same neighborhoods that received the erroneous flier, he said.
Probst was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2008 and 2010. Rather than seek a third term in the House, he has decided to run against Benton, who has been in the Senate since 1996.
During the 2012 budget negotiations in the Legislature, Benton and Probst both voted in support of operating budgets that increased some state fees, but both budgets did not increase taxes. Yet the Private Enterprise Project's flier characterizes Probst's budget vote as one that would have increased taxes and Benton's budget vote as one that would have opposed taxes. Neither of those budget plans passed.
Probst said he was disappointed that the flier had spread false information to the voters.
"The people of our community deserve better," he wrote in an email.
Other races affected
The flier includes side-by-side comparisons of all six legislative candidates in the 17th District. It states that Democratic House candidates Monica Stonier and Jim Gizzi refused to answer questions about taxes and spending. The flier then states that the Democratic Party platform supports a simple majority vote to raise taxes, and a state income tax.
Stonier and Gizzi said they don't remember being asked to answer any questions for the Private Enterprise Project.
"I do not have their questionnaire in my inbox and have never refused to answer their questions," Gizzi said.
John Wyble, a consultant for Democratic candidates in the 17th District, said it isn't fair to list the party platform underneath each candidate on the flier because candidates don't always agree with their political party about everything.
"These candidates are very independent candidates," Wyble said of Democrats in the 17th. "What's disingenuous about this piece is the way that it's laid out. It implies Monica and Jim have positions they just don't have."
Although Stonier said she opposes raising taxes, she does support a simple majority requirement to raise taxes. She said the two-thirds requirement would make it harder for lawmakers to close unnecessary loopholes.
Gizzi also supports a simple majority vote when raising taxes. He said a two-thirds vote requirement creates a "tyranny of the minority" in which just one-third of the Legislature can control whether the state raises taxes.
Stonier and Gizzi said they are opposed to a state income tax.
It is unclear who financed the fliers. The state's Public Disclosure Commission does not require the organization to report financial information because the fliers do not explicitly tell people how to vote, and because the fliers were distributed by hand rather than mail.