During last year’s hard-fought gubernatorial race, many business groups, lobbyists and trade associations bet their money on Republican Rob McKenna over Democrat Jay Inslee.
But over the past couple of months, dozens of those McKenna donors have sought to make things right with the winner, sending a stampede of what might be called “kiss the ring” contributions to Inslee.
Between Election Day and the end of the year, $100,000 has flowed to Inslee’s campaign account in the form of checks for $500 or more from donors who’d previously backed McKenna with at least that amount, according to a Seattle Times analysis of Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) filings.
That accounts for nearly half the $225,000 that Inslee has raised since the election to help pay off campaign debts and seed his potential 2016 campaign, according to PDC records.
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The more than six dozen McKenna-turned-Inslee donors included organizations ranging from restaurant owners to real-estate brokers, police unions, asphalt contractors, hotel owners and education-reform advocates.
It’s a common practice for those who have business interests at stake in the Legislature to ingratiate themselves with key elected officials — even if they previously supported their opponents, noted Ron Dotzauer, a longtime Democratic political consultant and lobbyist.
“It’s called make-good money. It’s ‘Oops, uh oh, I bet on the wrong horse, but I can kiss and make up — here’s my check,’ ” Dotzauer said.
“It’s not a new phenomenon. It’s happened to every new governor that’s been elected since money has come to play such a dominant role in our electoral system,” he added.
More than $26 million was raised between the Inslee and McKenna campaigns in the 2012 governor’s race. An additional $20 million was added on by independent groups, mainly for negative TV ads.
Sterling Clifford, Inslee’s campaign spokesman, said the campaign continued to raise money after the election to pay off remaining campaign debts and cover some ongoing expenses.
With so much of Inslee’s donor base maxed out, Clifford noted, it was natural to turn to some who had previously given money only to McKenna. “We’ve always cast a wide net and engaged a lot of people, and that will continue,” he said.
Inslee was able to raise much of the money thanks to an exception to the state’s “fundraising freeze” law, which prohibits state elected officials from soliciting or accepting campaign contributions beginning 30 days before the state of the Legislative session and ending when it adjourns.
As a newly elected official, Inslee was not subject to the fundraising freeze until he was sworn in Wednesday. As an incumbent, he will be subject to the freeze in the coming years.
Most donors willing to publicly discuss their Inslee contributions said they were gently solicited by the Democrats’ campaign or invited to fundraisers with the new governor. A few said they reached out to Inslee on their own.
The Washington Restaurant Association had endorsed McKenna last year and gave his campaign the maximum allowable $1,800 contribution for the primary and $1,800 for the general election.
But on Dec. 12, more than a month after the election, the association gave $1,000 to Inslee’s campaign. The money was delivered during a fundraiser with lodging and entertainment groups at a Seattle hotel, said Bruce Beckett, government affairs director for the restaurant group.
Beckett said Inslee’s campaign had reached out to his group.
“We were proud to support Rob McKenna, and if he choose to run again in the future we’d love to work with him, but Jay was elected and we wanted to get off to a good start with his administration,” Beckett said.
Similarly, the education-reform group Stand for Children had strongly endorsed McKenna last year and gave $3,385 to his campaign.
But on Nov. 28, the group’s political-action committee gave $1,800 to Inslee’s campaign as part of a fundraiser at Vulcan’s South Lake Union Discover Center.
“He’s the governor, and we want to work with him,” said Shannon Campion, Stand for Children’s executive director. “We had a good conversation.”
Added Campion: “We don’t expect anything for (the donation) — it’s just a goodwill gesture.”
The Washington Association of Realtors didn’t wait to be asked. The organization endorsed McKenna last year and maxed out with a $3,600 donation to his campaign.
Nathan Gorton, the Realtors’ government-affairs director, said the group approached Inslee’s political aides after the election and made an offer: “Hey, we have some money for the governor-elect, is there a fundraiser coming up?”
The Realtors wound up sponsoring a small mid-December fundraiser with other business groups at an Olympia house. The Realtors cut Inslee’s campaign a $1,800 check, and the group’s CEO, Steve Francks, gave another $1,000.
Gorton said the Realtors had worked with Inslee in the past on federal issues while he was in Congress. While the Realtors favored McKenna in the governor’s race, Gorton said, “Our guy lost — and no hard feelings.”
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner