Canvassers paid to ring doorbells

Some supporters of Thurston County Commission candidate Kevin O'Sullivan have started an unusual and possibly ground-breaking way to campaign for a South Sound candidate.

They're paying canvassers, who typically volunteer, to knock on doors in support of O'Sullivan.

O'Sullivan's campaign manager said she didn't know it was happening.

Paid signature-gatherers have become common in the state for initiatives the past several years.

"You see it in initiatives, but I'm not aware of any campaign for a candidate doing it," Thurston County Auditor Kim Wyman said Friday.

Olympia real estate agent R. Scott Roberts confirmed Friday that a political action committee he started this year, People's Choice for Thurston, has paid up to 15 canvassers about $35,000 to knock on doors in support of O'Sullivan this year. The committee's payments are reflected in state Public Disclosure Commission reports.

Those funds passed through another of Roberts's political committees, Progress for Thurston, after originating at the Thurston County Affordable Housing Council, the political action committee for the Olympia Master Builders Association, Roberts said.

Roberts supports O'Sullivan, a Republican, in his campaign against Bob Macleod, the Democratic incumbent.

"I feel that there needs to be a leadership-style change," Roberts said.

He thinks O'Sullivan is more energetic and less deliberative than Macleod, he said.

Face-to-face campaigning is an effective way to influence voters, Roberts said. He estimated that his canvassers have visited about 19,000 county households in the past three months.

Though the use of paid canvassers is unusual for candidates in Thurston County, Wyman said she thinks it's legal.

"I am unaware of anything that would preclude a campaign from paying people to doorbell," Wyman said. "But it's not typical."

O'Sullivan could not be reached for comment.

His campaign manager, Debbie Sullivan, said she was unaware of Roberts' effort.

"It's not anything we're aware of at all; it's something very new," she said. "I think it reflects how important this race is to this county."

Macleod was noncommittal about the campaign method.

"It's new to me. I've never heard of it in the years I've been involved in town," he said. "I have no experience with PACs (political action committees). It's a new phenomenon and interesting to observe."

The head of the Olympia Master Builders executive committee said he thinks paying canvassers is a strategy worth trying.

"It's a different thing than just printing signs," Mark Shaffer said. "It's a new and different idea that seemed like it had merit. I'm just eager to see how it all plays out."

The builders association's four employees aren't getting paid to campaign on behalf of O'Sullivan, Shaffer said.

Shaffer and Roberts said they support Initiative 933, the land use initiative on the Nov. 7 ballot that would allow claims for compensation from property owners whose land loses value because of land-use regulations.

O'Sullivan supports I-933, while Macleod opposes it.

Jim Szymanski is business editor of The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-357-0748 or jszymanski@theolympian.com.

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