Now that another bitterly partisan and divisive election is winding down, Washingtonians should pause to reflect on just how much their vote was worth.
What’s that? You didn’t sell your vote to anyone? You made informed decisions based on the character, experience and policy positions of the candidates in each race?
Sure you did.
Big campaign spenders seek to persuade voters to vote a certain way, and professional persuaders are good at their jobs. They’re so good that voters often don’t even realize what’s happening.
Four of the state’s largest companies — Amazon, Microsoft, T-Mobile and Boeing — spent a combined $823,000 on midterm elections in Washington. Their support crossed partisan lines, ensuring they would have the ears of whoever won.
That’s a lot of money, but it is small potatoes compared to the biggest spenders.
Various arms of the Service Employees International Union contributed more than $6 million to campaigns, PACs and committees for the 2022 cycle. That’s more than seven times what those four giant companies spent. And unlike businesses, SEIU was partisan. Its money supported Democratic-aligned candidates and causes. Two million dollars went straight to New Direction PAC, which backs Democrats running for the Legislature.
Another union, the National Education Association, spent $500,000 to keep an initiative off the ballot that would have repealed the 7% capital gains tax that the Legislature passed in 2021.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington also didn’t hold back. It spent more than $3 million in cash and in-kind contributions on a failed attempt to decriminalize drugs with a ballot initiative. Expect that idea to return, however, as the ACLU kept up the funding even after it was clear the initiative wouldn’t qualify this year.
Theoretically, Washingtonians can visit the Public Disclosure Commission website to find out how all that money was spent. The top-level numbers are readily available, but teasing out the details and following the money becomes difficult quickly. Big donors funnel their money through super PACs and committees, creating a nesting doll of campaign finance that obscures the truth despite Washington’s robust campaign finance transparency laws.
Money in politics has the potential to corrupt and to turn public policy away from the public good and toward the wants and desires of special interests like unions, special-interest groups and corporations. Donors don’t spend millions without expecting to get something in return.
So how much was your vote worth? There were 318,942 contributions totaling $127,790,245 for this year’s elections. That works out to about $26 per registered voter. Was it worth it? Surely there are better ways to spend that much money in service of Washingtonians.