But you cant be bought! …Right?
But you can't be bought! …Right? MarioGuti/Getty Images

Corporate interests are funneling out-of-state money into our elections. The No on 1631 campaign, the fight against Washington’s carbon fee, has broken the record for the most expensive election in Washington state history.

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The “No” campaign, funded by big players like Chevron, BP, and the Koch Brothers, are just five dollars shy of $26 million. That’s insane. According to the Public Disclosure Commission, 99.5 percent of this money has come from out-of-state interests.

Equally, Yes on 1634, the initiative that’s trying to preemptively block any type of grocery tax has reached $20 million in contributions.

Nearly $50 million has been raised for these two controversial initiatives alone.

This type of spending isn’t completely out of the ordinary, according to Mark Alan Smith, the associate chair of the University of Washington’s political science department.

“These initiatives are certainly on the upper end of the spending,” Smith said, “I seem to recall the spending against the GMO labeling initiative being in the 20 plus million range. The liquor privatization before that also got a lot of spending.”

That genetically modified organism labeling initiative smashed the record for fundraising by a campaign opposing a statewide ballot measure when it reached $21 million in 2013.

This is becoming the par for the course with elections, depending on the particular mix of initiatives in a given year.

“Any of these policies that affect a particular industry—these particular corporate sectors are worried about it spreading. They try to cut it back in the first state,” Smith said. “They’re trying to shape policy in one state if they think that policy has a chance.”

That’s why it’s not surprising that I-1631 is being fought, said Aseem Prakash the founding director of the UW Center for Environmental Politics.

“The political stakes in this fight are enormous,” Prakash said. “If it passes it will have a ripple effect. Other states will start enacting carbon pricing policies.”

The influx of money—just shy of $26 million for the anti-carbon fee—is the only defense these corporations have to fight policies that impact their industry.

“These corporate campaigns are pretty good about blocking other people’s ideas and not so good at pushing their own ideas,” Smith said. “If a corporate group that opposes an initiative spends a ton of money, they can have blocking power. They can prevent the thing they don’t want to be law.”

I-1631 is the most expensive election in Washington state history because Big Oil sees it as a threat. Prakash points out that the policy isn’t perfect, but bringing climate change onto our ballots is meaningful.

“It’s important that we bring climate change back on our agenda,” Prakash said. “The problem is happening because of President Trump’s ability to dominate the news cycle, climate change gets pushed to the side. As an environmentalist and environment policy scholar, I am very frustrated. What the carbon tax will do will bring us to the front page.”