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April 17, 2021

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Former Vancouver state senator Don Benton behind mystery tax mailer

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OLYMPIA – A former GOP Washington state senator and a Donald Trump appointee is responsible for a mailer last week criticizing Democratic lawmakers for a proposed change to the estate tax, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.

Don Benton was named as the respondent in a commission investigation into complaints alleging the mailer lacked disclosure information, The Seattle Times reported.

Postmarked from Portland without identifying a sponsor, the mailer showed a man in a suit holding cash, and a stricken-looking family, with a warning about proposed House Bill 1465.

That bill would raise the threshold of the existing estate tax, meaning fewer people would pay it, and expand the tax at the higher end, meaning wealthier people would pay more. People with taxable wealth above $1 billion would pay 40 percent. The bill is likely going nowhere this year.

Benton confirmed to the commission that he was the sender, agency spokesperson Kim Bradford wrote in an email. In an email Wednesday, Benton didn’t confirm or deny that he was the source of the mailer.

State law requires a sponsor to be listed on campaign mailers. But that isn’t necessary for communications known as “grassroots lobbying,” which focus instead on the debate over legislative proposals.

“We may determine that it was not political advertising and review the activity under another section of the law,” Bradford wrote.

The campaign-style mailer – which targeted at least half a dozen Seattle-area Democratic state lawmakers – claimed that the bill would impose a 40 percent estate tax for people and small businesses.

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