A pair of wealthy southwest Washington businessmen, developer Clyde Holland and investment guru Ken Fisher, have emerged as major benefactors for state Republicans fighting to control the Legislature.
Ken Fisher is a billionaire investor who dispenses financial advice on TV and in best-selling books.
Clyde Holland is one of Washington’s most prolific apartment developers.
Until a few years ago, the pair of Southwest Washington businessmen weren’t known as big political players in the state.
But in 2016 they’ve emerged as top donors to Republicans fighting to take control of the Legislature — and to forestall efforts by Democrats and liberal groups pushing for new taxes.
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Holland and Fisher have donated more than $100,000 apiece to the Reagan Fund, the soft-money account dedicated to electing Republicans to the state House. That’s a fifth of the $1 million raised by the fund this year.
They’ve given an additional $580,000 this year to the state Republican Party, and legislative and judicial candidates. And they’re the state’s biggest donors to a national political committee backing Donald Trump.
Why the growing investment in GOP politics? Fisher and Holland declined interview requests.
But past public statements and interviews with some who know them point to a concern with taxes and government regulation.
Fisher, the founder of Fisher Investments, moved his company’s headquarters over the course of a few years from California to Camas, Clark County, where it now employs about 1,000 people. The firm’s website says it manages $71 billion in investments for individuals and large institutions.
Forbes ranks him the 184th wealthiest American, with a net worth estimated at $3.5 billion.
State Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, who talks with Fisher, describes him as “a legend” in her district. She says Fisher first contacted her to say he appreciated her opposition to a proposed fireworks ban.
Pike said Fisher wants a predictable business climate in his adopted state.
In 2010, he inveighed against Initiative 1098 proposing a state income tax on the wealthiest state residents, telling The Columbian newspaper he’d cancel plans to make Washington his corporate headquarters if the measure passed. The measure was overwhelmingly rejected by state voters.
“He makes no bones that it’s going to be a lot easier for him to leave the state of Washington than it was as a fourth-generation San Franciscan to leave the state of California,” Pike said.
With Washington Democrats including Gov. Jay Inslee pushing a capital-gains tax on the wealthy in recent years, it’s easy to see why Fisher and Holland felt motivated to give to the GOP, which has opposed such proposals.
For the first time in two decades, Republicans have a shot at taking a majority in the state House, which is currently split 50-48 in favor of Democrats. With the aid of a renegade Democrat, Republicans hold a 26-23 advantage in the state Senate.
Republicans have been hitting Democrats on taxes in legislative races, arguing a capital-gains tax is just another way of imposing a state income tax.
“Unequivocally, the 48 members of the House Republican caucus won’t vote for a state income tax, hands down,” said Kevin Carns, political director for House Republicans.
Democrats argue the political donations by Fisher and Holland are merely self-serving.
“For a modest investment of $100,000, they see the ability to buy a majority that will not ask the wealthiest to pay more in taxes to pay for our schools,” said state Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, who chairs the House Democratic Campaign Committee.
Both men have emerged as major donors to anti-tax initiative activist Tim Eyman. And Fisher this summer donated $100,000 to a political committee opposing the re-election of Barbara Madsen, chief justice of the state Supreme Court, which in May struck down a voter-approved Eyman initiative requiring supermajority votes for tax increases.
Carns said support from Fisher and Holland is key for Republicans, given the 2-to-1 fundraising edge for House Democrats, who have landed big donations from major unions and wealthy progressive donors.
Carns recalled meeting with Fisher and Holland last spring in Olympia. “You know these are smart guys, very shrewd. And they had already done their homework,” he said.
In contrast with Fisher, the relative newcomer, Holland has been a longtime fixture in Clark County, where his Vancouver-based development firm, Holland Partner Group, was founded in 2001.
The company now boasts 30,000 apartments under management or in development in the Western United States.
Holland has built or is developing more than 3,300 units in the Puget Sound region since 2010, including several Seattle projects, according to the research firm Dupre + Scott.
Previously he wasn’t a big political donor, but since 2012, Holland has become a major benefactor for state Republicans, donating nearly $1 million to state GOP committees and candidates.
Earlier this year, the state GOP thanked him at its annual dinner with the party’s second annual “Courage Award.” (The first went to Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman.) The glass trophy goes to backers who generously give to the party “without fear of attacks from the left,” said Caleb Heimlich, the state GOP’s executive director.
Heimlich said both Holland and Fisher donate in support of Republican principles, not for any particular outcome.
As for Holland, in addition to being a big contributor, he’s an elected GOP precinct- committee officer. “He’s as grass roots as they come in that sense,” Heimlich said.
Last year, Holland hosted a fundraiser for a super PAC supporting the presidential ambitions of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at Premiere on Pine, a luxury Seattle apartment tower developed by Holland.
But more recently, Holland has embraced Trump, who has been shunned by some other traditional state GOP donors. In late June, he donated $94,600 the Trump Victory Fund, making him the largest state donor to the pro-Trump joint fundraising committee.
Holland also co-hosted a private fundraiser with Trump before the candidate’s Everett rally last month.
Fisher and his wife also donated $50,000 to the Trump fund. He sounded bullish on Trump in July, writing in his long-running financial-advice column for Forbes, “I actually see Trump winning (which means a good second half for stocks).”
But his column declared “either way, there’s a way to profit,” recommending investors buy stock in CVS Health and Hormel Foods.
This story was reported in partnership with the public-radio Northwest News Network.