Though we nominally have a high-profile presidential race and a gubernatorial race going on here in Washington, the state's few remaining Republican leaders appear to be focusing their attention—and their money—on using Referendum 90 to overturn the common sense, age-appropriate, comprehensive sexual health education bill state lawmakers passed last session.
The referendum asks voters to approve or reject the legislation, which allowed Washington to join the ranks of 29 other states (plus D.C.!) that have such laws on the books.
Normally big business groups or other "special interests" drive statewide referenda and initiatives, but that's not the case with Parents for Safe Schools (PSS), the organization that formed to oppose the referendum.
Public disclosure filings show that PSS serves largely as a front for state GOP leaders and a State House Republican PAC. You won't be shocked to learn, however, that the Republican PAC gets a non-insignificant amount of its money from Juul, Anheuser-Busch, and other businesses known for their great concern for children's health.
So far, Parents for Safe Schools has raised over $231,500, according to filings with the Public Disclosure Commission.
Top individual contributors include real heroes such as local GOP mega-donor and erstwhile Trump patron George Rowley, who dumped $25,000 into the campaign. Then we have $12,500 from Suzie Burke, a Fremont developer and Trump donor who has bankrolled scores of conservative projects.
On the Republican officials side, failed GOP gubernatorial candidate Joshua Freed ponied up $5,000, and failed Republican State Senate candidate Jack Connelly matched that. Republican State Senators Phil Fortunato, Mike Padden, and John Braun wrote $1,000+ checks.
But with $43,750 in contributions so far, PSS's largest haul comes courtesy of The Reagan Fund, a PAC linked with the House Republican Organizational Committee (HROC), which is the campaign arm of the Washington State House Republicans. (Three members of the HROC compose the PAC's board.) The Reagan Fund gave PSS $25,000 in cash and spent $18,750 to share data with the group, presumably to build donor and/or voter lists.
Who funds The Reagan Fund? Developers, the construction industry, more developers, dentists, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, the Association of Washington Businesses (AWB), Juul labs, Anheuser-Busch, the Washington Beverage Association, among others.
Some of these industries support kids mostly by suing to block clean air protections, allegedly marketing vape pens to them, allegedly marketing brews to them, and opposing soda taxes. So they want to give the kids vapes, beers, soda, and a poisoned planet, but they don't want them to learn about affirmative consent, building healthy relationships, and the existence of LGBTQ youth. Got it.
The coalition who rallied to support R90, Safe & Healthy Youth Washington, has raised over $1 million so far, with most of that coming from Planned Parenthood. They're clearly winning the money game at the moment, but any one of those big-money GOP donors could drop a million on PSS if they think they're being out-gunned.
Plus, a million dollars for a "family values" social issue in Washington doesn't go that far. In 2012, PACs supporting the gay marriage referendum raised about $13.7 million compared to the nearly $3 million raised by anti-gay PACs. Love only won 53.7 to 46.3.
Thanks in part to an alarmingly dishonest conservative campaign in the superintendent of public schools race, there's lots of misinformation about the sex ed bill floating around out there, especially on Facebook. And with affirmative action failing and Tim Eyman's $30 car tab initiative winning at the ballot box last year, there's reason to worry Washington might end up voting the wrong way on this.