Where the line is crossed

The Building Industry Association of Washington has no obvious counterpart as a political action organization in Oregon or Idaho. There are, of course, plenty of politically active organizations in those states on left and right, and plenty of others in Washington too, but the organization’s size, willingness to throw in serious money and act directly – not through regulated political action committees – make it unique. No other single organization in the region plays such a large, direct role in major races as the BIAW does. Two years ago, the state Supreme Court races stood out; this year, the governor’s race.

Its politics are rough and tumble (you can get some feel for that from the web site), and increasingly the opposition is biting back. A group including two former state Supreme Court justices (Faith Ireland and Robert Utter) are demanding regulatory crackdown, or in lieu of that a lawsuit.

From a summary: “Washington’s public disclosure law stipulates that any organization soliciting money for the purpose of achieving of influencing electoral goals must register as a political committee with the Public Disclosure Commission, and records such as contributions and expenditures must be made available to the public. The Building Industry Association of Washington and the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish County (MBA) are not registered as political committees, nor have they disclosed the sources of their campaign money. The plaintiffs have obtained evidence (including meeting minutes and internal emails) that the BIAW and its affiliates misappropriated trust funds to build a campaign war chest totaling at least $3.5 million, intended to sway this year’s gubernatorial race.”

They could of course set up a separate political committee, as lots of other organizations do, to create a kind of wall between the core purpose of the BIAW (advocating for and assisting the building industry in the state) and its political activities; right now, there seems to be no such wall, no such division.

The BIAW’s Tom McCabe described the new action as “just one more attack … to try to shut us up.” He might not think so, but from here it looks like an attack that might do just that.

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