Earlier this week Ballard-area State House candidate Sarah Reyneveld distributed thousands of mailers accusing her opponent, Liz Berry, of "work[ing] with a domestic terrorist" in her capacity as CEO of the trial lawyers association.
In a fundraising email Berry, who beat Reyneveld by nine points in the August primary, called the mailer "slanderous" and "lies," but vowed not to return fire.
"I’m just sad that she’s sending out these weird, false, bizarre attacks on me," Berry said in an interview. "I mean, I know Sarah. We went to zoo lights together with our kids last Christmas."
The mailer features a photo of Berry above a photo of Republican State Rep. Matt Shea, who investigators say engaged in domestic terrorism, promoted a group that trains children for Holy War, pulled a gun someone during a road rage incident, etc. etc. etc.
Here's the relevant text from the mailer:
Liz Berry is the director of a powerful special interest group whose PAC donated thousands to white nationalist and domestic terrorist Republican Representative Matt Shea. Liz even 'celebrated' Matt Shea when he passed their legislation. By working with Matt Shea, they gave him power even though he fostered racist and nationalist sentiment.
Liz looked the other way and worked with a domestic terrorist. Can you trust her to represent your interests?
It's true that Berry runs a "powerful special interest group," but she said she doesn't get a say in where the PAC funds go.
Berry directs the Washington State Association for Justice (WSAJ), aka the trial lawyers association, which boasts around 2,400 members. WSAJ government affairs director Larry Shannon and a 26-member board run a political action committee called the Justice for All PAC, which is affiliated with the organization. Shannon and the board make the PAC's spending decisions, according to Berry, while she manages a "50-person board" on the other side of the org.
Shannon said he and his lobbying partner make recommendations to his board, and the board makes the final call on who the PAC funds.
The Justice for All PAC has donated $5,900 to Shea since 2014.
Berry lobbied for the organization between 2013 and 2016, but said she never met with Shea.
Over the phone, Shannon said to his knowledge Berry never met with Shea, and that he did "most of the meetings one-on-one with Matt Shea," though never with Berry.
Reyneveld's mailer claims Berry "celebrated" Shea when he passed legislation supported by the trial lawyers association, and then points to a 2018 column Berry wrote in Trial News to substantiate the claim.
Berry's headline celebrates the "legislative session," and she celebrates "the great successes," which included a bill sponsored by Shea, who was on the judiciary committee the bill passed through. The legislation increased Washington's civil arbitration limits to $100,000, which is good for victims who run their claims through arbitration instead of going to court, and for the lawyers who represent them. Democratic Reps Laurie Jinkins (who now serves as the House Speaker), Joe Fitzgibbon, Christine Kilduff, and others all sponsored the bill as well.
Berry said she celebrated the bill, not Shea. "It was a great bill!" she said.
Shannon said he and "a couple Democrats" landed on Shea as a prime sponsor because he'd "shown strong interest in the bill" when it was introduced, and because he was "one of the handful of Republicans" who was standing up against the insurance industry.
The final bill passed as a striking amendment jointly sponsored by Shea and Rep. Jinkins. Having bipartisan support on the bill was useful given the partisan makeup of the Legislature at the time, Shannon added.
In a release, Reyneveld said, “It’s concerning that Liz’s organization paid to play and worked closely with a White Nationalist to pass legislation. This is exactly what is wrong with how Olympia works and our politics right now," she said. “We should care who we partner with in order to pass legislation. That should matter."
Berry didn't publicly condemn the PAC for donating to Shea when the PAC was doing that, but she said she condemns Shea, and she reiterated the claim that she never worked with him.
The WSAJ and the Justice for All PAC "relinquished its support for Shea, now and in the future" on December 20, 2019, a day after an independent investigator found that Shea had engaged in domestic terrorism. Of course, Shea sucked before that, and other groups started pulling money and support from Shea long before the report came out.
Shannon said they waited to sever ties from Shea until after the report came out because "there was a real dispute as to what had gone on, and we were waiting for an independent validator to find those things."
"I would respectfully submit," Shannon added, "that I’ve been doing this since 1991, and our organization has done as much or more for progressive causes than any other organization in the state of Washington."
In a Facebook post Thursday evening, Rep. Noel Frame, who participated in a book club with both candidates and who represents the same district, said Reyneveld's actions "truly appalled" her and made her feel "gross."
While calling both women highly qualified, Frame said the attack on Berry was "absurd" and "RIDICULOUS."
"By that logic," Frame said of the mailer, "despite me publicly condemning Matt Shea and signing onto a letter asking him to be expelled from the legislature, I too could be attacked. Matt Shea was the prime sponsor of a bill that was supported by the Washington State Association for Justice. It was good public policy, despite having an imperfect sponsor. I voted for the bill, as did most of the Democratic caucus. By the logic of the mailer, did I or anyone else who voted for the bill and/or are supported by WSAJ 'support domestic terrorism?'"
Frame had stayed out of the race before Reyneveld went negative, but now she's throwing her support behind Berry and encouraging others to do the same.
Planned Parenthood's regional PAC and a bunch of unions who endorsed Berry also wrote an open letter "strongly condemning" the mailer.
In an email Reyneveld said, "Liz’s supporters are acting outraged because they don’t want voters in the 36th District to hear about these inconvenient facts."
The book club will reconvene at the Stranger Debates on Monday, Oct 19, where this conversation will likely continue.