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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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July 28, 2008 10:39 AM

When losing pays off

Posted by David Postman

Ralph Thomas had a story in yesterday’s paper detailing what Dino Rossi did in the three years between losing the 2004 governor’s race and his official entry into this year’s rematch with Chris Gregoire.

It turns out that losing the ’04 race wasn’t all bad for Rossi. Connections he made during the campaign helped him boost his real estate investments and get him a piece of the Everett AquaSox minor league baseball team. Said Rossi:

"There's no doubt that I got to meet people I wouldn't have met if I didn't run for governor."

The story also looks at Forward Washington, the non-profit group Rossi founded and led during the time he wasn’t running for governor. Democrats filed a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission claiming the group was just a front for Rossi’s ’08 campaign. Thomas writes:

Rossi said the group's fundraising largely dried up after the PDC launched its investigation. But even before that, he said, many people in the state's business establishment were nervous about donating for fear of ticking off Gregoire.

This has been a consistent claim of Rossi’s; the foundation’s fundraising was hurt because of the Democrats’ complaint. It came up in his interview with a PDC investigator, who asked:

Can you give me any more information about the harm that the Foundation has experienced? Make it more tangible for me?

ROSSI: Yes, less money in the bank account to help pay the bills because
of the PDC’s prolonged investigation of a baseless claim.

Rossi’s attorney suggested in that session that the candidate could file a legal action against the PDC for harming the foundation’s fundraising.

But the PDC investigation found that donations to Forward Washington dried up months before the state Democratic Party filed its complaint. The foundation raised $356,770 from April 2006 to August 2007, according to information collected as part of the investigation. But about 84 percent of that had already been raised by the end of March of last year. Democrats didn’t file their complaint until June.

It’s possible fundraising got tougher after the investigation began. But it’s clear it hadn’t been going well for months before.

The foundation staff did some fundraising by personally contacting potential donors. The non-profit also spent $39,092 to rent mailing lists to send direct mail solicitations. The PDC staff investigation described the non-partisan foundation’s fundraising as “explicitly partisan.” Rossi told investigators his foundation didn’t try to raise money from Democrats.

We were looking for people who would be responsive to a pro-business message, especially a pro- small and medium sized message so that wouldn’t have happened.

But even those targeted on Republican lists didn’t come through with very much money. Rossi told investigators that after paying to rent those lists, there wasn’t much net gain for Forward Washington. Rossi said most of the time the non-profit only broke even, or in one case, did a little better than that.

On the expense side of the ledger, Forward Washington’s biggest expenses included Rossi’s $75,000 salary and $24,000 in legal fees. The foundation also spent $9,100 to buy copies of Rossi’s self-published book.

The foundation didn’t accomplish much. There was the Idea Bank that Rossi heralded as a bipartisan effort to solicit and vet ideas from citizens on how to improve state government. (The Democrat who made the project “bipartisan” thinks FDR was a Socialist and still complains "that traitorous scamp, Jane Fonda" caused America to lose the Vietnam War.)

The bank’s work resulted in a letter to lawmakers early this year outlining 32 ideas from people around the state, offered with no analysis from Forward Washington, and no effort on part of the foundation to push for any of the proposals. The ideas ranged from radical shift in state policy stated in brief, like this from Gene in Ferndale:

The state should sell the Workers Comp program to private investors and invest the $7 billion surplus from the sale in transportation-related infrastructure improvements.

to more details on less substantive ideas, like this from Karyn in Orting:

The state should contract with sheep and goat farmers and their working dogs to use their herds to keep roadside grasses "mowed" and trimmed. I saw a program on Animal Planet about working dogs which described a lady and her herd of sheep used by a Florida municipality. She dropped off the sheep where huge weeds of some kind had taken over and her dog kept the sheep where they were supposed to be and the sheep ate the weeds until there was nothing left. It would be quaint to see sheep lining the roads ( at the triangle areas of on/off ramps ) and using sheep or goats would also be "enviro-friendly" by not using gas-powered mowers, as well as encouraging agricultural awareness.

Rossi told Thomas that Forward Washington could still take off. You’ll know that has happened when you see goats on the freeways.

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