Gubernatorial race fueled by big donations

The race between Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee is one of the most competitive in the nation.

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'Money is the mother's milk of politics"

-- Jesse M. Unruh, Speaker of the California State Assembly, 1961-1969

And it continues to be the case today.

Money is flowing into Washington state's gubernatorial race as it has been targeted by the two major political parties as one of the most competitive in the nation.

Attorney General Rob McKenna, Republican, and former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, Democrat, are in a close race to replace Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat retiring after two terms.

Washington has leaned to the left in recent years and hasn't elected a Republican governor since John Spellman in 1980.

McKenna, after winning two terms as attorney general, has a chance to break the Democrats' hold on the governor's mansion. McKenna is slightly behind in the latest poll, but the race with Inslee is still close.

The candidates will get their message out between now and Nov. 6. And they -- as well as their supporters -- will spend what it takes to undercut the other guy.

Inslee and McKenna report raising more than $8.5 million each in cash and in-kind contributions for their campaigns. Expect more to pour in over the next two months.

Raising that much money is a challenge given law that places limits on the amounts that can be contributed to a candidate's campaign. Yet, the laws in place -- approved by voters through an initiative -- can be sidestepped. The Seattle Times reported on Sunday that individual contributions can exceed the legal limit if funneled through the state political parties.

As an example, The Times looked at contributions made by Yakima attorney Blaine Tamaki and his wife. The couple donated $7,200 to Inslee, which is the maximum allowed by law. But they also donated another $80,000 to the state Democratic Party with the intent to help Inslee.

"The party makes its own decisions in terms of how the donations will be used, but I'm hoping they'll use the money on the governor's race," Tamaki said. "I'm a believer in Jay."

The state Democratic Party has given nearly $1.5 million in cash and in-kind contributions to Inslee. The Republican Party has not yet donated to the McKenna campaign, but the party chairman said that will soon change.

Under state law, each party can contribute a maximum of $3.3 million to its gubernatorial candidate this election.

As of last week, 72 organizations and individuals had given the maximum contribution to Inslee's campaign, and also contributed an additional $519,000 to the Democratic Party' account supporting state candidates, The Times reported. The GOP had 44 donors who contributed the maximum to McKenna and gave an additional $213,000 total to the party.

As long as the names of the donors are public, we've got no problem with this system. Donations to political candidates and political parties are essentially an extension of free speech.

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