As activists across Washington State were gathering signatures this spring for ballot measures to raise the minimum wage and restrict gun access, Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman was taking closed-door meetings with the National Restaurant Association and National Rifle Association, the New York Times reports.
A Times investigation published Friday found that powerful lobbying groups are increasingly meeting with and donating to secretaries of state across the country to try to influence ballot initiatives. "The targeting of secretaries of state with campaign donations, corporate-funded weekend outings and secret meetings with industry lobbyists reflects an intense focus on often overlooked ballot questions, which the secretaries frequently help write," the Times reports.
Here's what the Times piece has to say about Wyman:
The influence campaign has intensified, with more citizen-driven ballot initiatives to be decided on Election Day this year than at any time in the past decade.
Secretaries of state from Washington, Ohio, Colorado and Nevada — all Republicans — participated in closed-door meetings in May with representatives from Reynolds American, the nation’s second-largest tobacco company; the National Restaurant Association; and the National Rifle Association, while ballot initiative signatures in those states were still being collected, documents obtained through open records requests show.
Minimum-wage advocates chastised Washington’s secretary of state, Kim Wyman, who is in the midst of a re-election campaign. She has benefited from a blitz of radio advertisements paid for by the Republican group that sponsored the May meetings with industry representatives. Ms. Wyman declined requests to comment.
While he didn't comment directly on Wyman, former Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed implicitly criticized her behavior, telling the Times, "It is extremely important that the public trust their elections and have confidence they are going to be handled in a fair and impartial way. And ballot issues in particular are very sensitive." Clarification: In an email, Reed said he was not criticizing Wyman. "I was referring to candidates, like [Wyman's Democratic challenger] Tina Podlodowski, who take positions on potential ballot issues, e.g., gun control, abortion, and such," Reed wrote. "I was also referring to candidates, like Tina Podlodowski, who say they will take positions on presidential candidates, like Florida’s Katherine Harris – and then oversee ballot access and the Electoral College."
Wyman's Democratic challenger, Tina Podlodowski, is already seizing on Friday's news. At 11 am, Podlodowski plans to host a press conference along with advocates for the minimum wage and gun safety measures on this year's ballot.
Wyman's campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.
UPDATE: In a statement, Wyman called criticism about the meetings with lobbyists “just another breathless allegation by my opponent that has no factual evidence behind it.”
She dismissed allegations that the meetings influenced her treatment of ballot measures, including the minimum wage initiative on this fall’s ballot, because in Washington the secretary of state does not write ballot titles or pro/con statements and because that ballot measure easily qualified for the ballot.
“I challenge her to show any example—even one!—of a decision I have made or action I or my office has taken that shows any undue influence,” Wyman said. “She can’t. And the New York Times story would have, but it didn’t—because there isn’t any!”
In a press conference Friday, Podlodowski stopped short of making specific accusations about how the meetings affected Wyman’s decisions on any ballot measures. But she called for an investigation into Wyman’s treatment of initiatives and accused her of a “pattern” of these types of meetings.
David Rolf, president of Service Employees International Union 775, called the news “deeply troubling.” Teresa Mosqueda, political director at the Washington State Labor Council, said it “erodes the public trust.” (Both groups support the minimum wage initiative.)
“It's the appearance of impropriety,” Mosqueda said.
When asked what was discussed at the meetings with the National Restaurant Association, National Rifle Association, and others, Wyman’s campaign told The Stranger in an email, “Sec. Wyman just answered questions about the initiative process in Washington, just as she does for any individual or group who wants to better understand how the process works here and how it differs from other states.”
Wyman has benefited financially from the Republican State Leadership Committee, the group that hosted the meetings reported on by the Times. The committee has spent about $67,500 on an independent expenditure supporting Wyman. Podlodowski accused Wyman of getting $105,000 from the group. That number is a bit muddled. Wyman didn’t received that cash directly from the committee. Podlodowski is combining the IE and donations to Wyman from the Washington State Republican Party. The state party has received money from corporations that have also given money to the Republican State Leadership Committee, according to emails published by the Times.
“You don't get a $105,000 campaign contribution from a group like this just for having a meeting to explain the initiative process," Podlodowski said. "You can look that up on Wikipedia."
Podlodowski also repeated one of her central criticisms of Wyman, that while Wyman claims to be nonpartisan, she has close ties with the Republican party.
“She's run away from being a Republican and Republican special interests,” Podlodowski said. “It’s really clear today that she maybe has been running from that in the public but behind scenes she’s been running... to the lobbyists.”