Here is a TV ad you might see this election season if you live in Bellevue, Redmond, Medina, or some other part of Washington's 48th legislative district:
Affordable college tuition, "transparency in government," shaking hands with Governor Jay Inslee. Looks like a standard Washington state Democrat, right?
Rodney Tom may be running as a Democrat, but the state party wants nothing to do with him. And that ad up there? It was paid for by an independent expenditure committee that has spent recent years working to keep Republicans' hold on power in Olympia.
First, for those of you who weren't avid readers of Slog in 2013, a refresher on Rodney Tom.
Tom is a former Republican who became a Democrat because he disagreed with the GOP on social issues like gay marriage, but then ended up turning his back on Democrats.
Ahead of the 2013 legislative session, Tom enraged many progressives in the state when he and another Democratic member of the state Senate joined with Senate Republicans to create the so-called "Majority Coalition Caucus." At the time, Tom—who became Senate majority leader thanks to the deal—hailed the whole thing as much-needed collaboration between the parties. Basically every other Democrat called it a coup.
The then-president of the teachers union summed Tom up to the Seattle Times: "The man obviously has no allegiance to any set of ideals or core values."
The move essentially gave Republicans control of the state Senate. That meant Tom spent the next term pledging his support for bills that stood no chance thanks to the Republican obstruction he helped enable. (See: gun safety legislation; the Washington Dream Act, which would help undocumented students access financial aid; and the Reproductive Parity Act, which would have required insurance companies to cover birth control and abortion. The Dream Act and RPA passed in later legislative sessions.)
In 2014, before an actual Democrat could potentially take him out, Tom left the legislature. This year, he's back and running for his old seat against incumbent Democrat Patty Kuderer. Tom, too, is running as a Democrat.
The Bellevue-based committee behind the pro-Tom ad above—"Citizens for Progress Enterprise Washington" (wtf?)—is not new to state legislative races. It's also no friend to Democrats.
In 2016, when Republicans controlled the state Senate, Citizens for Progress Enterprise Washington spent about $69,700 on ads supporting Republican Senator Steve Litzow in one of the most important races that year in determining the balance of power in Olympia. The group spent another $334,700 on ads opposing Litzow's Democratic challenger Lisa Wellman.
Last year, in another key race Democrats hoped would flip control of the Senate, the same group spent about $248,100 in support of Republican Jinyoung Englund and another $793,000 against her opponent Democrat Manka Dhingra. Both Litzow and Englund lost.
So far this year, Citizens for Progress Enterprise Washington (again: why) has spent $172,000 on ads supporting Tom.
As required by law, the ad includes the top five contributors who paid for it: Citizens for Progress Enterprise Washington, Phillips 66, the Washington Association of Realtors, the Washington Hospitality Association, and the political arm of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish County.
The realtors have opposed tax increases. The Hospitality Association has endorsed far-right members of the legislature like Representatives Matt Shea and Matt Manweller, opposed Seattle protections against sexual harassment for hotel workers, and warned of a "skyrocketing minimum wage."
Citizens for Progress Enterprise Washington, meanwhile, reports its top donor as a political action committee called Enterprise Washington's Jobs PAC. That PAC's biggest donors are the Washington Association of Realtors, the Building Industry Association of Washington, and the Associated General Contractors of Washington. Kroger, the state Farm Bureau, and the Washington Retail Association (which opposed a $15 minimum wage) are also donors.
No matter what Tom says about his relationship with the GOP, it's clear some powerful groups in the state trust him to represent the same interests as Republicans in Olympia.