The Republican-controlled state Senate has killed a bill that would require disclosure of donors to nonprofits that spend money on elections.

Share story

A bill to force disclosure of major donors to nonprofits that spend big on Washington political races was derailed by Republicans in the state Senate Wednesday — even though they’d previously voted for the measure.

The reversal came after some business groups lobbied against the proposal, arguing it would subject their members to unfair scrutiny.

Senate Bill 5153 would require nonprofits spending $25,000 or more on elections to disclose their 10 biggest donors of $10,000 or more.

The proposal was aimed at so-called “dark money” that has flowed through both liberal and conservative-leaning nonprofits to influence elections, often through attack ads.

The idea had drawn bipartisan support and the bill passed unanimously in the Senate last month. A modified version was passed by the state House two weeks ago and sent back to the Senate for concurrence.

On Wednesday, the bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said he was told the GOP had decided not to bring the bill to a floor vote, effectively killing it as the 2015 regular session ends Sunday.

Billig tried a procedural maneuver to bring the bill to a vote Wednesday — even offering to revert the proposal to the exact version the Senate had passed — but his motion was rejected by the Republican majority, including several co-sponsors of the bill.

“What changed? I thought we were working together on it. I thought we had a deal on it, and something changed in the last two weeks,” Billig said.

In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said Republicans opposed the bill as amended by the House.

Schoesler also said Democrats should concentrate on the Legislature’s top concern — passing a budget that deals with the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling on school funding.

“If they think they need $1.5 billion in taxes, pass that. If they don’t have the votes to do that, pass something else. But focus on McCleary and fund your budget,” Schoesler said.

Billig said the House amendments were merely technical in nature and questioned why Republicans wouldn’t take any action to keep the bill moving ahead.

The Associated General Contractors of Washington, which represents commercial construction companies, was among the groups that objected to the bill in recent weeks.

AGC’s chief state lobbyist, Jerry VanderWood, said the organization favors disclosure of political contributions and has been meticulous about following Washington’s campaign laws.

However, VanderWood said the bill would have unfairly required AGC to disclose its top 10 financial supporters even though their money is not necessarily used for political purposes.

AGC has a separate political-action committee, BUILD-PAC, which does report its contributors. But AGC itself helps fund that PAC through cash and in-kind contributions, meaning it would have to reveal its top corporate donors under Billig’s proposal.

VanderWood said many AGC members don’t give money for political purposes, and that some of the money funds golf tournaments or annual conferences. He added AGC’s full roster of 600 members is reported periodically to the state Public Disclosure Commission.

AGC’s concerns could be fixed if the group ran all its political activities through the PAC, Billig argued.

But VanderWood said that would be difficult. “Many of our dues-paying members don’t contribute to our PAC. They don’t want to be involved in political activities,” he said.

Billig said AGC told him the same thing. “That’s exactly why we need this bill,” he said. “People don’t want to have their names associated with all these ads … they’re doing it through a back door.”

A similar measure also died in the state Senate last year. Billig said he’ll propose the legislation again next session.