Candidates face short fundraising window

Election: Late sessions, early vote put squeeze on legislators’ campaigns

ALEXIS KRELL; Staff writerApril 17, 2012 

The Legislature’s three extra sessions and an early primary election are conspiring to ramp up the pressure on state lawmakers to raise cash for their campaigns quickly.

State law bars legislators from accepting campaign donations while the Legislature is in session. The freeze goes into effect one month before the regular legislative session and lasts until lawmakers leave Olympia.

This time, lawmakers arrived early and stayed late – extending what might have otherwise been a 90-day freeze to 133 days (not counting a three-day thaw in March after the regular session adjourned).

Add that late start to this year’s Aug. 7 primary – which is two weeks earlier than previous years – and it equals a time crunch for lawmakers running for re-election.

“You need to raise an awful lot of money very quickly,” said Tacoma Democrat Jeannie Darneille, who is leaving her 27th District House seat to run for state Senate. “You need to make those first impressions in a very short amount of time.”

Lobbyist Mike Moran, whose clients include a food bank and two tribes, had more than 16 requests from legislative and gubernatorial candidates seeking campaign donations as of Monday. That’s not necessarily more than in past years, but he does sense that candidates are watching the clock.

“I think everyone was crowded on the start line,” Moran said.

Darneille said since the Legislature adjourned last Wednesday, she has sent out a fundraising letter to 300 lobbyists, in addition to making fundraising calls. She spends between 20 and 30 hours each week on fundraising, she said.

State redistricting is a factor in this year’s campaigns. Candidates have to appeal to new voters in their redrawn districts, and such voter outreach efforts cost money.

Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, said constituents have been keeping her busy with questions about the special session and other issues, but that she hopes to start fundraising next week.

“You back into it with the time you’re given, and that’s about all you can do,” she said. “Obviously that is always an advantage for someone who is challenging you.”

The amount raised by candidates isn’t necessarily affected by the shorter window, but it draws lawmakers’ attention from other aspects of campaigning, said Christian Sinderman, founder of Northwest Passage Consulting.

“The amount of money a campaign will raise is fairly constant, but the number of doors that a candidate can knock on is actually time dependent,” he said.

Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Olympia, expects legislative candidates to have a harder time getting donors’ attention this year because the races for three open congressional seats might appear more attractive than state races.

“I think there’s only so much money that people give to political campaigns,” he said.

For some, the Legislature’s multiple overtimes might have delayed more than fundraising. Darneille pointed to the surprise announcement by Democratic Rep. Troy Kelley of Tacoma that he is leaving the race for the 28th District House to run for state auditor.

“If we hadn’t had the special session, those kinds of decisions might have been moved back on the calendar,” she said.

Alexis Krell: 360-943-7123

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