Could Inslee Campaign’s Reliance on Transfusions of Party Cash Hurt Democrats Statewide?

Reports filed with the State Public Disclosure Commission through April show Republican candidate for Washington State Governor Rob McKenna taking a thin lead over Democratic opponent Jay Inslee in total direct campaign contributions since the campaign began last June.

The PDC reports filed by each campaign show $4.4 million in overall direct contributions raised for McKenna compared with $4.3 million for Inslee.

In April alone—the first full month Inslee did not have his day job in Congress and could commit full time to his gubernatorial campaign—McKenna raised just over $590,000 against only $398,000 for Inslee. The disparity underscored by the fact that McKenna was only able to take contributions from April 12 onward after the state Legislature ended its third special session and the ban on fundraising by state officials lifted.

The Inslee campaign supplemented its campaign purse in April with a $75,000 transfer from the State Democratic Party, bringing the combined total to $605,000 for all such transfers during the current election cycle. Other transfers from Democratic Party county and legislative district organizations brings the total to almost $800,000.

“You have wonder when State Democratic Party donors are going to stop throwing good money after bad now that they have propped Congressman Inslee up with more than $800,000 in party money,” McKenna campaign communications director Charles McCray III said yesterday. “The truth is Rob McKenna raised more for his gubernatorial campaign in 19 days than Mr. Inslee has generated in any month since he entered the race.  That statistic tells you how this race is truly going.”

McKenna’s campaign finance advantage continues in spite of a 100-day handicap for Inslee due to the prohibition on raising campaign dollars during legislative session, a law that non-state officeholders are exempt from having to comply with.

Through the end of April, Inslee had logged 301 days on the campaign trail compared to 326 for McKenna, but with 125 days of legislative session, Inslee nets a potential advantage of 100 fundraising days but has yielded a lower overall take from his passing of the hat.

Based on our calculations from the PDC data, the average contribution rate to the McKenna campaign is just over $22,000 per day, while Inslee’s pace is significantly slower at just under $13,600 per day.

In March, we estimated that based on the speed differential of these two political racehorses, Inslee’s lead in overall dollars (the amount that includes transfers from the state party) might last through mid-June at which time McKenna would slingshot past. With the new figures, it seems reasonable to think that timeline could be accelerated.

The sluggish appearance of the Inslee campaign’s fundraising may be improved somewhat by the veneer of party transfusions, but PDC reports also show that the Inslee campaign is monopolizing its party’s funds. (The $75,000 transfer on the last day of April left the State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz with only several thousand dollars in his non-exempt account.)

But allowing the Inslee campaign to use the party account as its private rainy day fund could have negative implications for Democratic races outside of the campaign to retain the governor’s seat.

Down the ticket from the gubernatorial ballot, Democrats will be on defense in as 25 key races in the state House and Senate, including a number of open seats in Western Washington.

State Republicans aim to capitalize on those opportunities and an equalized playing field created by last year’s redistricting process, and the leadership in Olympia has been very busy in recent months, quietly recruiting an impressive list of legislative candidates to run in targeted Western Washington districts. Their initiative marries with Washington State Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur’s “12 in ‘12” push to win back the governor’s seat and majorities in both houses of the state Legislature.

So far, McKenna has not had to tap the WSRP bank for any kind of assistance, a windfall of sorts should Wilbur be inclined (and financed) to support legislative candidates what many Republicans see as a goal critical to McKenna’s eventual success should he be elected governor, the resetting of the agenda in Olympia.

On the other hand, Inslee is already a drain on his party’s finances. Is there symbolism for Washington State voters to take away from the comparison? It’s so obvious if it was a dog it would have already jumped up and bit you.