Sunday, July 5, 2020
July 5, 2020

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Clark County dollars stocking presidential candidates’ war chests

Ken Fisher, wife each give $125K to Trump re-election; Sanders in lead for challengers

By , Columbian staff reporter
Published:

For decades, Washington hasn’t been much of a factor in deciding presidential elections.

The last time Washington went Republican red was when Ronald Reagan carried the state in 1984. Since then, Washington has been reliably blue for Democrats.

But Clark County residents also participate in presidential elections by breaking out their checkbooks. And no county residents have wielded more financial clout for the 2020 presidential election than billionaire investment manager Ken Fisher and his wife, Sherrilyn.

In June, each Fisher contributed $125,000 to Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee between President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee. Those are the biggest federal contributions from county residents for the 2019-20 election cycle through November.

So far the Fishers are the only county residents to donate to Trump Victory for 2019-20, according to Federal Election Commission filings. A second joint committee between the president’s campaign and RNC, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, has netted $57,800 from county donors.

Local contributions to those two committees are more than what county residents are giving directly to presidential candidates.

Through the end of November, contributors with Clark County ZIP codes donated $244,700 directly to presidential candidates for the 2019-20 cycle, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Trump’s re-election campaign is leading the way and has collected $72,500 in direct contributions, almost twice the amount as his nearest competitor for local fundraising. Trump has received more than 1,200 contributions from county residents, a count that includes repeat donors who contributed on two or more occasions.

Trump’s record of cutting taxes, loosening government regulations, cracking down on illegal immigration and appointing conservative judges has made him immensely popular with his Republican base.

Clark County Republican Party Chair Earl Bowerman said county residents donating to Trump’s campaign are looking to help their candidate nationally.

“The donations that are made are not to help Donald Trump carry Washington state because he won’t,” Bowerman said.

Joint fundraising committees skirt donation limits

Ken and Sherrilyn Fisher’s two $125,000 contributions to the Trump Victory fund will not directly flow to President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

The Camas couple are still bound by federal contribution limits for individuals: a combined $5,600 for the primary and general elections. That’s how much of their big contributions to the joint fundraising committee between Trump and the Republican National Committee can be directly transferred to the Trump re-election campaign.

But campaign finance critics say joint committees allow large donors to skirt contribution limits.

“This money can all be spent to benefit the candidate,” said Paul Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation for Common Cause, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group. “The donor is able to give well in excess of the $5,600 to Trump.”

A 2014 Supreme Court decision removed maximum limits on how much individuals can contribute during a two-year period to all federal candidates, parties and political action committees combined and ruled that so-called aggregate limits violate the First Amendment.

Democrats and Republicans have both capitalized following the court’s 5-4 decision, Ryan said. Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, was the most effective user of joint fundraising committees four years ago, he said.

“The huge contributions you can give to the party, combined with the use of joint fundraising committees, has significantly weakened the $2,800 per election candidate contribution,” he said. “It’s a flaw that was produced intentionally by the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court and then compounded by the Democratic and Republican parties.”

Democrats running for the nation’s highest office have talked about the corrupting influence of large campaign donations while the party’s apparatus has operated much differently, Ryan said.

“The reality is that the Democratic Party has long fought against meaningful restrictions on big money and politics and has contributed directly to this problem,” he said.

Fisher, founder of Fisher Investments in Camas, is a prolific contributor to political campaigns.

According to Federal Election Commission filings, Fisher donated $342,550 to federal Republican committees last year, including $125,000 to Trump Victory. Sherrilyn Fisher donated another $323,750 to Trump Victory and other Republican committees, plus $5,600 to Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground.

A phone message from The Columbian seeking comment from Fisher or a spokesperson was not returned.

John Oberg, Clark County Democrat Party chair, said it’s no secret why the Fishers and other wealthy donors are backing Trump’s re-election.

“They have a business interest in supporting Donald Trump, obviously,” he said.

“Financially, they deliver the weight, but people are still free to make up their minds,” Oberg said. “Ultimately, it is the vote that matters and who people get behind.”

­— Jeffrey Mize

Sanders raises $37,100

Trump has raised more money locally than any of the other 31 other current and former candidates for the nation’s top office. Those candidates, 28 Democrats and three Republicans, include 15 who already have dropped out before the nominating process officially begins with the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses.

Trump’s closest opponent in this local financial competition is Sen. Bernie Sanders, who visited Vancouver during the 2016 campaign. The self-described democratic socialist from Vermont has received $37,100 from more than 1,000 county donations. He is the only candidate who comes close to matching Trump for number of local donations.

Some Democrats still in the race, such as Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and former Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, haven’t raised any money from county residents. Two billionaires seeking the Democratic nomination, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former hedge fund executive Tom Steyer, are largely self-financing their campaigns.

Local fundraising could reflect the competitive race within the Democrat Party as a handful of top-tier candidates battle to see who will square off against Trump in November.

“We had upwards of, what, 26 candidates at one time,” said John Oberg, Clark County Democrat Party chair. “We are seeing that narrow down.”

Three Democrats — Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Ind. — have raised a combined $97,800 in Clark County. If you don’t consider local contributions to joint fundraising committees, those three candidates have raised $25,300 more than Trump locally.

Oberg said some Democrats are asking for small donations so they meet requirements to qualify for upcoming debates.

“Folks are actually out there doing the volunteering for the different candidates,” he added. “Maybe they are doing that in lieu of a donation at this particular time.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden, widely seen as the strongest candidate to go toe-to-toe with Trump this year, hasn’t gotten much financial love in Clark County and has raised less than $8,700.

Not only does Biden trail Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg and businessman Andrew Yang in local fundraising, he also ranks behind Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who ended his presidential campaign in August.

Tight local vote

Four years ago, Democrat Hillary Clinton carried Clark County with 316 more votes than Trump.

Oberg expects a repeat performance this year.

“We have a good field of people who are running,” he said. “And ultimately Clark County will get behind the Democratic candidate.”

Not surprisingly, Bowerman predicts a strong economy will propel Trump to victory in Clark County.

“I think he will carry it,” Bowerman said. “And all you (had) to do is go to the shopping centers during the month of December. People have money in their pockets, and they can’t wait to spend it.”

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