Afternoon Jolt

1. Mark my words, liberals are going to lose the money-isn't-speech battle; the effort to prevent and limit corporate spending is a constitutional long shot. Washington state, in fact, allowed unlimited corporate (and union) spending long before the controversial 2010 "corporations are people" Citizens United ruling. There are, for example no limits on PAC spending on initiatives or independent expenditures backing candidates in Washington state.

The solution to unlimited spending is disclosure.

And on this front, Washington state has some good laws on the books: Unlike at the federal level where, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, corporations can contribute to nonprofits anonymously and let the nonprofits bankroll political campaigns, Washington state's Public Disclosure Commission makes political groups register as official political committees. And political committees are required to disclose their donors.

There is a loophole in Washington state, though: If a group's "primary purpose" isn't spending and raising money on an initiative or independent expenditures, they don't have to disclose.

Today's Jolt? State senator Andy Billig (D-3, Spokane) is trying to close that loophole. He passed legislation out of the senate yesterday (the last day to pass policy bills out of its house of origin) 49 to 0 that would force any group—primary purpose or not—that has spent $25,000 to disclose their top 10 donors (plus any donors that have contributed more than $100,000).

Billig likes to cite the example of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which spent nearly $20 million to defeat a GMO labeling initiative, I-522 in 2013, as an example of the problem. As a nonprofit association, the GMA wasn't forced to disclose all the food and chemical companies—Pepsi, Coke, General Mills, Clorox, Cargill, for example—that were contributing to defeat the measure until Washington attorney general Bob Ferguson subpoenaed the GMA for fundraising letters that proved they had set up a specific account to defeat 522 rather than just relying on their general fund.

Under Senator Billig's
new rules, the minute a group starts writing big checks, they've got to proactively register as a political committee and disclose donors.

The PDC's Lori Anderson tells me that example doesn't actually constitute a loophole because the AG and the PDC used existing law to force the GMA to disclose their donors. Under existing Washington state campaign finance law, a group can't explicitly raise money to promote or defeat an initiative, as the GMA was doing, without registering as a political committee and following disclosure rules.

However, Billig—who, by the way, also cites examples of undisclosed liberal spending, such as labor-backed "nonprofit" contributions to the SeaTac $15 minimum wage campaign in 2013—has come up with a more practical and swift solution. In the GMA example, it took an official complaint from progressive attorney Knoll Lowney to jar the disclosure through a government subpoena. Under Senator Billig's new rules, the minute a group starts writing big checks, they've got to proactively register as a political committee and disclose donors.

Law enforcement and prosecutors should shift their focus from the supply of prostitution to the demand by persons who patronize prostitutes.

Billig said: “Voters count on accurate and complete information about who is funding the electoral campaigns in our state, and in recent years increasingly sophisticated political operations have found and exploited loopholes in our laws. This long-overdue measure would close these loopholes and ensure that voters get the information they count on.”

2. Speaking of policy cutoff day, one important bill that didn't make it? Seattle senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles's (D-36, Ballard) bill to make patronizing a prostitute a gross misdemeanor ($5,000 fine and/or going to prison for a year) as opposed to a misdemeanor ($1,000 fine and/or up to three months in prison), despite unanimous support in committee, never made it to the floor for a vote.

As the nonpartisan staff summarized public testimony (including from the Seattle city attorney):

Prostitution is not a victimless crime. Prostitutes may be vulnerable girls or women exploited for sex. Persons who patronize prostitutes harm the prostitutes. A pimp may exploit a woman's drug, alcohol, and other addictions and force them into prostitution. Law enforcement and prosecutors should shift their focus from the supply of prostitution to the demand by persons who patronize prostitutes. Focusing on the prostitutes does not decrease the crime. Increase the penalty for persons who patronize prostitutes.

3. Republican state representative Melanie Stambaugh (R-25, Puyallup), the self-proclaimed pro-choice young Republican who voted against the choice community's ongoing priority bill, the "reproductive health act" this week, got back to us with an explanation.

She said: "I am pro-choice. I support a woman’s right to choose—to choose what she wants to do with her body and to choose the coverage of the health insurance plan she purchases. [The bill] provides choice for some women, but not all, so I was unable to support the bill." 

We've asked her to explain how mandating that insurance companies cover contraception and abortions—as the bill does—takes choices away from anyone. She hasn't responded yet.

However, Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest's political and organizing director Treasure Mackley told us:

“If Melanie Stambaugh is going to say that she’s 'pro-choice,' she needs to walk the talk and support access to birth control and reproductive health care. Valuing women’s health is about more than just making empty statements. People in the 25th legislative district, and across the state, expect their elected representatives to actually vote for what they say they support. In this case, Rep. Stambaugh has shown us that when it comes to protecting women’s health, she doesn’t stand behind her statements.
 
“People will always have access to plans that exclude abortion coverage; the Affordable Care Act requires it. Without this bill, more state plans are likely to exclude abortion care coverage, limiting a woman’s access to affordable comprehensive plans.”