Wash. fundraising freeze side effect of special session

Wash. fundraising freeze side effect of special session
FILE - Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna.

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - As lawmakers struggle to break a state budget impasse, more than one person has a fiscal interest in whether another special session is needed.

Under state law, state officials are not allowed to raise money for their campaigns while the Legislature is in session. All of the House and about half of the Senate is up for re-election this year.

While both parties are affected, Democrats, who hold majorities in both chambers, potentially have more to lose if they can't raise money to defend their seats.

But the highest-profile person impacted by the fundraising freeze is Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is running for governor.

Because lawmakers have been in session since the end of November, he hasn't been able to raise money except for a three-day window between the end of the regular session and the start of the most recent special session earlier this month. During that brief period, campaign finance records show he raised nearly $270,000.

McKenna's Democratic opponent, former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, didn't have to abide by the state fundraising freeze because he held federal office up until last week.

However, political action committees are free to raise money in support of campaigns, and that is certain to happen, to the benefit of both campaigns, regardless of whether lawmakers continue their overtime work at the Legislature.

"Because of this unique harm to McKenna because of this ongoing special session, someone needs to step in and help balance that scale," said Alex Hays, executive director of the Mainstream Republicans of Washington.

Hays said that the group's political action committee will be raising money and doing independent expenditures, like TV ads or mailers, on behalf of McKenna and other Republicans running for statewide office.

"We're a natural home for people who want to invest in this governor's race," he said.

Campaign finance rules require committees to be subject to the same limits on donations to campaigns as anyone else — $3,600.

However, they can spend an unlimited amount on independent expenditures in support of or in opposition to a particular candidate as long as they are completely separate from and have no coordination with the campaign.

McKenna isn't that far behind Inslee in the race for dollars, in spite of the limit on his fundraising abilities. As of earlier this month, Inslee had raised a total of about $4.3 million and McKenna is at $4 million, thanks to the boost from his weekend fundraising between legislative sessions. Inslee has about $2.4 million on hand, compared to McKenna's approximate $2.3 million.

But now that Inslee has resigned from his congressional seat to focus full time on his campaign, the expectation is his fundraising activity will increase. He has a fundraising lunch with California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom scheduled for Friday in Seattle that is expected to bring in about $100,000, according to this campaign.

"This is going to go back and forth," said state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz. "Jay and Rob will continue to raise a lot of money, and will continue to pace each other throughout this thing."

However, McKenna can't appeal to supporters for money until lawmakers, who continue to struggle to reach a budget deal, adjourn. They are looking to close a budget gap of about $500 million through the end of the two-year budget cycle, ending June 2013.

The 30-day special session is set to end April 10, and there's no indication that negotiations between legislative Democrats and Republicans and Gov. Chris Gregoire has them any closer to a deal.

If lawmakers get called back again, it would be the third special session for lawmakers to deal with the supplemental budget. They spent nearly three weeks in a special session that ended mid-December, weeks before the regular session started in January.

"It does impact our fundraising effort, however, we can't spend a ton of time worrying about things that are beyond our control. This is one of them," said McKenna campaign spokesman Charles McCray, who said that the multiple special sessions are "yet another reason to provide Olympia with a new direction and new leadership."

___

Follow Rachel La Corte on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/RachelAPOly

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.