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June 8, 2006

Campaign to protect estate tax begins tomorrow

Posted by David Postman at 5:56 PM

A campaign to dissuade people from signing petitions for the repeal of the Washington estate tax kicks off tomorrow. The campaign focuses on the wealthy people backing the initiative, I-920, and the cost to education programs if the tax is repealed.

The Committee to Protect Our Children's Legacy will run ads in The Times and P.I. tomorrow. You can see the ad here. (My copy of the ad came from the committee, not The Times, which said confidentiality rules with advertisers prevented them from telling me anything about the content of the ads.)

The ads list the top 10 donors to the Committee to Abolish Washington State Estate Tax, the group pushing I-920, and says, "remember what the few wealthy families listed below stand to gain by bankrolling the 920 campaign versus all that public education students stand to lose." The ad asks people to "decline to sign." Sponsors need 224,880 valid signatures by the July 7 deadline.

And I'll answer the question I know I'll get in comments: Times Publisher Frank Blethen is not a contributor to the I-920 campaign. He opposes the estate tax on the state and national level, "but he is not a contributor and does not intend to be a contributor to this initiative campaign," said Times spokeswoman Jill Mackie.

There are some prominent names on the list. Developer Martin Selig has given $137,500, John Nordstrom, $50,000, and Charles Pigott, $10,000. You can go to the Public Disclosure Commission here and search for all donors to both committees.

The opposition campaign has gotten $10,000 from Microsoft founder Bill Gates, $5,000 from the Service Employees International Union, and about $35,000 in-kind from the teacher's union, according to the PDC site. Attorney Bill Marler told me he's helping with the costs of the ads. The group is working with the League of Education Voters, the sponsors of I-728, the 2000 initiative that directed state funding to reducing class sizes. Permanent Defense is active working against it, too.

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Supreme Court candidate doesn't want bar rating

Posted by David Postman at 12:24 PM

Supreme Court candidate Steve Johnson told the King County Bar Association today that he won't participate in its candidate evaluation this year. In a letter to the association he said he doesn't think he'd be treated fairly since in the last three elections, people on the evaluation panel have donated $19,000 to Democrats and $800 to Republicans. The court is a non-partisan office but Johnson is a long-time Republican state senator from Kent.

"The Supreme Court is a nonpartisan office, yet the people you choose to evaluate candidates for the Court are themselves partisan activists — and heavily tilted toward one side of the partisan scale at that!"

Johnson is also following the tracks of two incumbent court members, Richard Sanders and James Johnson. Both were given low evaluations in their first campaigns, "not qualified" for Sanders and "adequate" for Johnson, and then decided not to submit to the bar's questions in subsequent elections.

Steve Johnson is running against first-term Justice Susan Owens. He is backed by conservative groups, including the Building Industry Association of Washington and the Constitutional Law PAC, a group formed by Alex Hays, Jim Johnson's former campaign manager.

UPDATE: I just received an e-mail from Gary Maehara, president of the King County Bar Association, that include these two points:

1. The 70 members of the KCBA Judicial Screening Committee are prohibited from donating to judicial campaigns, but are not restricted from donating to other political campaigns.

In any event, assuming Mr. Johnson's figures to be correct, the average donation by each committee member would be only about $90.00 per year to non-judicial campaigns -- and $0 per year to judicial campaigns. He does not state how many of the committee members made a contribution in the past 3 years. Was it a small number or large number? In either case, this hardly suggests that the committee members are "partisan activists."

Will Mr. Johnson next criticize the composition of the editorial boards of the newspapers and also refuse to appear before those bodies?

2. Washington's voters will be the losers if Mr. Johnson declines to stand before his peers and be evaluated as a judicial candidate. The vast majority of voters have no information about judicial candidates except for the candidates' own self-serving campaign literature, and perhaps whatever negative advertising their opponents might publish.

If judges are to be elected, then more information about them is needed, not less information. Mr. Johnson's letter, unfortunately, tells voters nothing about himself except that (1) he has an aversion to Democrats, and (2) he believes that some lawyers on the KCBA Judicial Screening Committee have made donations to Democratic candidates in non-judicial elections. The public deserves to know more than that about Mr. Johnson.

The KCBA Judicial Screening Committee, like screening committees of other bar associations, contacts dozens of persons who have dealt with a candidate first-hand, in order to measure not only the candidate's litigation experience and judicial experience, if any, but also the candidate's judicial characteristics, including legal ability, temperament, common sense, patience, communication skills, courtesy and integrity.

There is no question on the questionnaire about whether the candidate is a Democrat or a Republican, and that never has been a criterion of the screening committee.

Also, I was sent a copy of the judicial candidate reviews done by state business groups. You can see it here.

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Grads and dads

Posted by David Postman at 7:34 AM

Flying east to see his son graduate from high school next week will keep Mike McGavick from appearing with President Bush at a fundraiser here. But it's not stopping the money machine completely.

McGavick has said that graduation and related festivities means he'll have to skip the president's June 16 visit to Washington state. But the night before his son, Jack, graduates from high school in Pennsylvania, McGavick has organized an insurance industry fund raiser in Chicago.

McGavick spokesman Elliot Bundy laughed when I started asking him about the money stop at the front-end of the grad trip, and said, "I find it amazing the lengths they will go to on this. The fact is Mike has chosen to be with his son and they won't accept that."

The "they" is the Democratic Party, which has been poking at McGavick and questioning whether he is trying to duck the president. Bundy used my call to point out that Cantwell gets a lot more money from out of state than McGavick does.

And Democrats still do question whether McGavick is at all sorry he'll miss the Bush visit. Party spokesman Kelly Steele said it's like the Mastercard commercial: "Having day-after-graduation activities you can attend on the day Bush and his 31% approval rating blow into Washington state - priceless."

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