Working Washington, a union advocacy group, has done some gumshoeing into political contributions by business interests in this year’s elections. On their website RunForTheMoney.org, the group has curated contributions from donors who oppose I-1433, which would increase the state minimum wage, to current races for the Washington statehouse. I-1433 opponents have put a lot of money into legislative races this year—nearly $2 million so far.
The top recipient of “anti-worker” money? Socially liberal but fiscally conservative Republican state senator Chad Magendanz in District 5. He’s the beneficiary of nearly $450,000 that the “Working Families” political action committee (PAC) spent in opposition to his challenger, Democrat Mark Mullet. From the name, you might expect that to be a left-leaning union PAC, but in fact its sole source of funding is the Leadership Council, a group that advocates for business/Republican interests in the statehouse. Funding for the Leadership Council comes from the Washington Restaurant Association ($25,000), the Association of Washington Business ($15,000), and other donors who, like them, are also funding the No on I-1433 campaign.
In short: if you support increasing the minimum wage, you might want to vote against the candidates detailed on RunForTheMoney.org. If you oppose I-1433 and take a more conservative approach toward labor and economics, you might want to vote for them.
“The minimum wage initiative is one of the clearest ways to distinguish candidates’ interests,” says Working Washington representative Sage Wilson. He thinks the money trail in this election leads to “a very clear agenda when you trace it that I think is worth exposing.”
But races aren’t always a clear cut division between progressive hero and conservative villain. In District 5, for example, the Washington Food Industry Association (which, as we’ve previously reported, is backing opposition to a campaign finance reform initiative on the November ballot) donated to both Magendanz and Mullet.
We asked WFIA president Jan Gee why. “Because both of them have had a excellent voting record with us,” she says. “It was an afterthought, I have to say. We took one action”—giving $2,000 to Magendanz in June —“and then after time went on, we felt like we had to be fair,” so they later gave Mullet $1,500.
Of course, Working Washington is union-backed, and unions’ hands aren’t exactly innocent when it comes to slinging political cash. In Washington, while business interests far outspend unions in political contributions, this year alone unions have spent $6.8 million in political contributions. Trade unions have spent nearly $4 million on lobbying.
We asked Wilson: Isn’t it hypocritical for you to criticize business interests for spending money on political races, when your funders do the same?
“When an organization like a labor union gives money in support of a candidate,” Wilson says, “the issues they’re supporting are pretty clear. Everyone knows SEIU supports higher wages.
“It’s a different story” when it comes to misleading titles or other ways to mask true donors, he says. “Working Families is the most startling” example of a group “pushing for another set of interests” than it first appears, he says. “I think it’s a lot less clear to voters what the issues are behind this spending.”