Here are the real winners (and one loser) of this year's ballot initiatives | KUOW News and Information

Here are the real winners (and one loser) of this year's ballot initiatives

Nov 29, 2016

The winners and losers in Washington's elections become official once counties certify their results Tuesday, November 29. Then there are the unofficial winners – who won’t be publicized.

Those are the deep-pocketed special interests behind the campaigns to sway your vote.

They’re usually the ones to provide the million dollars or more typically needed to pass what are, quaintly, still called “citizens' initiatives." Those interests — often big business, billionaires and labor unions — stand to gain or lose the most from persuading citizens to vote their way.

Here are some of the key winners and losers from this year's big ballot measures

I-1433: Minimum wage

Winner: Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer.

The self-described "zillionaire" from Shoreline, Washington, gave $1 million to the campaign to boost the state's minimum wage to $13.50 and provide paid sick leave for workers. The liberal activist has told his fellow zillionaires that "the pitchforks are going to come for us" unless the nation can reverse its growing inequality.

Hanauer threw his weight around the state's elections more than any other zillionaire this year, tossing a total of $1.8 million into the minimum wage, gun control and other campaigns, according to Washington Public Disclosure Commission records.

I-1491: Gun control

Winner: New York billionaire Mike Bloomberg.

This initiative campaign to allow judges to take guns away from people deemed a menace to themselves or others was funded primarily by Hanauer, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and by Michael Bloomberg's national gun control group, Everytown for Gun Safety.

It passed by a wide margin: 69 percent to 31 percent.

Everytown gave $550,000 to support the measure; Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, personally gave $250,000 to Democratic candidates in Washington.

In 2014, the National Rifle Association fought an Everytown-backed measure on the Washington ballot to require background checks for gun buyers. The measure passed.

This year, the NRA faced off against Everytown over background checks in Maine (where voters rejected the proposed checks) and Nevada (where voters approved them despite the NRA spending $4.8 million to block them).

But the NRA was MIA in Washington: The group reported no spending to fight I-1491 and did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

I-1464: Campaign finance reform

Losers: Out-of-state activists and donors.

They hoped to make Washington the first state to overhaul its campaign finance system by putting new restrictions on lobbyists and government contractors and giving $150 in “democracy credits” to each legal adult resident in Washington. Residents could then contribute that amount to candidates of their choosing.

Seattle voters in 2015 approved a similar system, which launches in January. But the state's voters didn't buy it — despite the $4 million of mostly out-of-state money the group Integrity Washington raised to pass the measure. More on the curious failure of I-1464 here

 

Source: Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, as of Nov. 18, 2016. Graphic: KUOW/Abraham Epton

I-1501: Identity theft and home-care workers

Winner: labor union SEIU.

While the measure's aims were foggy, its funding was straightforward. Until the week before the election, when a group of Democrats in Issaquah gave all of $50 to the I-1501 campaign, SEIU was the only donor to the $1.8 million campaign.

The ballot measure is ostensibly aimed at helping seniors fend off identity theft — it will stiffen penalties for that crime — but it will also prevent anti-union activists from learning the names of SEIU-member home care workers (who are paid by the state) through public-records requests.

The anti-union Freedom Foundation and SEIU have been locking horns in the courts, the legislature and now the ballot box over home health care workers.

SEIU was the 2016 heavyweight champion of election influencing — or at least election spending — in Washington state: The union and its various locals gave $6.2 million to various ballot initiatives, candidates and Democratic Party organizations.

I-732: Carbon tax

Winner: Kaiser Aluminum.

The climate loses when tailpipes and smokestacks pump more carbon dioxide into the sky, but Kaiser Aluminum of Spokane wins with the defeat of carbon tax initiative I-732.

"We use a lot of natural gas," Kaiser spokesperson Kyle England told KUOW. "That is the best way to melt aluminum."

England said the company competes on international markets and would not have been able to pass on its additional costs from the proposed tax on carbon-bearing fuels like natural gas. Kaiser pumped $450,000 into the No on 732 campaign, more than any other donor for or against what would have been the nation’s first tax on carbon dioxide emissions.

Business opponents of the proposed tax only raised about half as much as its backers. But most of the state's environmental and progressive groups either opposed or stayed away from the measure in one of the more remarkable instances of infighting on the left.

I-735: Overturn Citizens United

Winner: volunteer power.

Yes on 735 was the only initiative campaign that did not turn to big donors this year. It relied on volunteers for most of its signature gathering and campaigning and had little money for advertising. With no megadonors, there were no big winners behind the scenes, but there are no real losers either.

This initiative has no teeth. It merely urges the state's congressional delegation to support overturning the Supreme Court case that opened the floodgates of campaign spending by companies and unions.

A haiku by activist Damian Carroll of California, where voters passed a similar measure this month, distils the measure to 17 syllables:

asks to overturn

Citizens United, but

shucks, it’s non-binding

Prop. 1: Sound Transit

Winner: the construction industry

Passage of this measure means that King, Pierce and Snohomish taxpayers will invest in $54 billion of light rail and other transit projects. Commuters along those rail and bus corridors will benefit once service is up and running -- in some corridors as much as 25 years from now.

Major employers will benefit, too: Microsoft, which operates private buses for its employees around the region, was the Mass Transit Now campaign's biggest single donor at $300,000. Other big businesses in the area made six-figure contributions.

But the construction industry was collectively the biggest donor: firms and labor unions gave $2.1 million to Mass Transit Now's $3.7 million campaign. That relatively modest investment will usher in tens of billions of dollars of public-works contracts for the industry to bid on in the years and decades ahead: a return on investment to make any investor jealous.

And on top of them all...

 Winner: PCI Consultants

A winner throughout this year's busy initiative season has been a small firm in Calabasas, California, called PCI Consultants. The signature-gathering firm had a hand in four of the six statewide initiatives.

Part of an industry that has sprung up around the initiative process used by 26 states, PCI marshaled an army of paid signature gatherers in Washington and elsewhere. It earned $4.56 million off initiative campaigns in Washington this year, according to filings with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission.

Other winners and losers: Big money usually won. But not always. Here are two statewide races where money lost:

With a boost from deep-pocketed charterschool backer Connie Ballmer, Erin Jones' side outspent Chris Reykdal's side by 38 percent ($393,000 to $285,000) but lost in the race to be the state's top education official.

Democrat and former Microsoft executive Tina Podlodowski ran an aggressive campaign, criticizing Washington's Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman at every turn. Podlodowski's side outspent the incumbent and her Republican supporters by 4 percent but lost the race.