OLYMPIA — Starting Monday, Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna’s ability to raise money for his gubernatorial campaign comes to an end for the next few months because of a voter-approved law that doesn’t allow elected state officials to fundraise during legislative sessions.
His Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, doesn’t face any similar restrictions under state law, something one Republican state representative wants to change.
Rep. Bill Hinkle of Cle Elum said he will introduce a bill on Monday, the first day of the legislative special session, called the “Campaign Financing Fairness Act.” It would require federal officials running for statewide office to be subject to the same fundraising freeze as state officials.
“He’s clearly got an unfair advantage,” Hinkle said Friday, referring to Inslee. “The same reason we don’t let lawmakers raise money during session should apply to the guy in federal office as well.”
Required by the voter-approved Initiative 134, the freeze prohibits lawmakers from accepting campaign contributions during a period extending from one month before to the end of the regular legislative session. They also can’t raise money during special legislative sessions. Members of Congress are covered by federal law and not subject to the state law.
I-134 was sponsored by then Sen. Linda Smith, a Republican from Vancouver who later was elected to Congress. It was approved in 1992 by more than 70 percent of voters.
Several elements of the campaign finance initiative have since been overturned by the courts or changed by lawmakers, including the removal of a requirement that the fundraising freeze continue a month after session ends. But the rest of the freeze aspect of the law, designed to diminish the chances of vote-buying or the appearance of it during legislative sessions, remains.
“I think the whole idea of this is to make sure people don’t unfairly use their incumbency,” Hinkle said.
He said that the fact a federal official can use a high-profile position to continue to raise money “is a stark example of the unfairness of the election law.”
“I’m just trying to correct that,” he said.
The regular legislative session begins Jan. 9 and runs for 60 days, which means McKenna would be prevented from raising money until the second week of March, assuming lawmakers don’t need to stay for another special session. Lawmakers have been called into special session to address a projected $1.4 billion budget deficit.
McKenna and Inslee are seeking to replace Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is not seeking a third term.
Fundraising reports released this month showed Inslee having about $1.7 million available at the end of October, compared with about $1.5 million for McKenna. McKenna has raised more money overall but also has spent more so far. Inslee’s cash-on-hand lead is certain to widen in the months to come because of the freeze.
Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for the Inslee campaign, noted that candidates in the state have long been subject to running races against candidates who aren’t subjected to the freeze.
“Will the bill include a retroactive clause for any nonstatewide officeholder who ran in the past?” Smith wrote in an email Friday. “McKenna didn’t have a problem raising money for his statewide race in ’06 during the freeze, and Republicans didn’t seem to mind Rossi raising money during the freeze in ’08.”
Smith was referring to Dino Rossi, a former state senator who lost twice to Gregoire. Gregoire, who was the state attorney general during her first gubernatorial race, was subject to the fundraising freeze during both that first campaign and her re-election campaign.
Randy Pepple, McKenna’s campaign manager, said Inslee could voluntarily opt to not raise money when the Legislature is in session.
“He can choose whether to follow Washington state rules or Washington, D.C., rules,” Pepple said.
McKenna’s campaign asked supporters in recent weeks to donate before the freeze takes place. In an email sent to potential donors Friday, Pepple wrote: “We are running out of time.”
“Rob is counting on your support in these final days before the deadline.”
Hinkle’s bill likely will be referred to the State Government & Tribal Affairs Committee, which is run by Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia.
Hunt said Friday that because the focus of the special session is to deal with the state budget, he doesn’t expect to take up the issue now. But he wouldn’t rule out considering hearing the bill during the regular session.