It's important to know who donates to campaigns

More than $30 million has been collected to promote and oppose Initiative 1183. Following the big money can provide insight into the campaigns.


The campaigns for and against Initiative 1183 have incredibly large war chests filled with cash. Or, at least, they did until they spent millions on the campaigns to approve and defeat the initiative that will make it legal to sell hard liquor at Costco and other stores.

Costco, playing the role of the 800-pound gorilla, has pumped a whopping $22.5 million into the campaign for the proposal. Meanwhile, those who oppose the measure have a few gorillas of their own. Those against I-1183 have raised $11.7 million, most of it from national and state alcohol wholesalers.

And distillers are running ads not sanctioned by the anti-I-1183 campaign claiming the measure is flawed and might not be good for consumers.

"When we hit $30 million in a place like Washington, this is off the charts," said Todd Donovan, a political science professor at Western Washington University who has written books about the initiative process.

Yet, given all the money that merchants stand to gain and liquor distributors and distillers stand to gain or lose depending on the outcome of the initiative, it's hardly a surprise that both sides have huge financial support.

While spending this kind of money on a campaign is unseemly, it's nevertheless legal.

That's OK because the public knows exactly who is heaping all this cash into the various causes. If we know Costco is bankrolling the yes on I-1183 campaign and we know that liquor wholesalers are against it -- $11.7 million against it -- this provides a perspective that helps voters decide whether they favor or oppose the initiative.

We have endorsed I-1183, and we did consider, metaphorically speaking, whose ox was being gored. Ultimately, we concluded it would be best for consumers and taxpayers to get the state out of the liquor business and let the marketplace and competition set the price of booze. The big spending by the wholesalers was a factor in our decision. We envision local winemakers having an opportunity to more easily sell directly to the stores and therefore make a bigger profit by cutting out the state and the middlemen.

Of course, others might see this all differently. For example, they may look to Costco's ginormous contribution as an indicator that retailers will be the big winners and the public won't benefit.

In the end, it does matter who donates to political campaigns. Washington state is fortunate to have solid laws that make it clear those who donate to campaigns, and how much they donate, are public records.

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