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Initiative opponents target the millionaire behind the measures

They’re out with an ad portraying Brian Heywood as the villain behind proposals to undo priority policies for Washington Democrats. Heywood said he’s ready to fight back

By Jerry Cornfield, Washington State Standard
Published: July 4, 2024, 5:17pm

Brian Heywood used his money and moxie to get three conservative measures on Washington’s November ballot.

Now, opponents hope Heywood’s wealth and audacity will help them defeat the initiatives this fall.

Heywood is the chief villain in their initial campaign commercial against measures to end the state’s cap-and-trade systemrepeal its capital gains tax, and make a long-term care program optional.

“Don’t be fooled. Hedge fund mogul Brian Heywood’s slate of ballot measures will have a devastating impact on our state,” begins the 30-second spot that started streaming last month. They are “greedy and deceptive” and would cut “billions” from schools, early learning, transportation, senior care and environmental protections, it concludes.

What are the three initiatives on the November ballot?

  • Initiative 2109 to repeal the state’s capital gains tax;
  • Initiative 2117 to repeal the Climate Commitment Act which established the cap-and-trade carbon pricing program;
  • Initiative 2124 to make participation in the long term care services benefit program voluntary

Heywood indicated he’s eager to fight back and said he might even appear in a pro-initiative commercial. “I don’t think they’ve dealt with someone like me before. I am going to lean into it,” he said. “I am willing to defend what I am doing.”

Defend Washington, a coalition of progressive groups and statewide unions of teachers, health care workers and government employees, is behind the anti-initiative ad campaign. The political committee was launched by Civic Ventures, a self-described “small group of political troublemakers” founded by multi-millionaire venture capitalist Nick Hanauer.

Sandeep Kaushik, a spokesman for Defend Washington, declined to reveal how much air time had been purchased or where the ad is streaming.

While it’s early, he said it’s about reaching people as they gear up for voting in the August primary.

“There are some targeted audiences who are starting to pay closer attention,” he said. “We see an opportunity to do some early voter education with those audiences, in particular making sure they look behind the curtain to see who is behind these measures.”

And, Kaushik said, their research gives them confidence that when voters hear more about Heywood they will reject the initiatives. “We have done our homework,” he said.

Heywood dismissed the campaign and its backers as “full of crap.”

“It’s not original in any way whatsoever,” he said of the ad. “They are trying to get people in the media to write about it.”

Heywood’s been hiding in plain sight since he founded Let’s Go Washington and, in 2023, poured several million dollars into the successful signature-gathering efforts for six initiatives to the Legislature.

The Democrat-controlled Legislature adopted ones dealing with police pursuitsparental rights, and taxes.

Voters will decide the fate of the other three which target major social and environmental policy changes pushed by the state’s Democratic powers.

In addition to Defend Washington, other political committees are running separate campaigns against each of the measures.

Heywood points out some mega-rich people are helping fund those efforts.

Billionaires Bill Gates, who founded Microsoft, and Steve Ballmer, the company’s former chief executive officer, are among those who’ve given or pledged money to fight the measures, according to filings with the Public Disclosure Commission.

“It’s billionaires picking on a millionaire,” Heywood said. “If this is as creative as they get, we’re going to stop them.”

The Washington State Standard is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet that provides original reporting, analysis and commentary on Washington state government and politics. We seek to keep you informed about Washington’s most pressing issues, the decisions elected leaders are making, how they are spending tax dollars and who is influencing public policy. We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.