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Updated Saturday, November 3, 2012 at 08:01 PM

Tab for governor's race: $46 million

By Andrew Garber
Seattle Times Olympia bureau

The Washington governor's race will cost more than $46 million by the time the election is over, with the single biggest share of spending coming from out-of-state interest groups.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee have raised about $25 million combined, and an additional $21 million has been thrown in by independent expenditure campaigns, most of which came from out of state.

The national Republican Governors Association (RGA), based in Washington, D.C., was the biggest single player for McKenna, raising nearly $11.4 million and spending all but $1 million of that amount as of last week, largely on television ads attacking Inslee.

Top contributors to the RGA this election include Blue Cross/Blue Shield, billionaires Charles and David Koch, and Bob Perry, head of a Houston real-estate empire, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign-finance-watchdog group.

Perry is a top contributor to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and well-known supporter of conservative causes. Perry also contributed directly to McKenna's campaign.

McKenna also benefited from a combined $580,000 in independent expenditures by several other groups and organizations, including a $400,000 campaign by Stand for Children, which advocates for charter schools, and $75,000 in advertising from The Seattle Times Co.

On Inslee's side, Our Washington raised about $9.2 million for an independent expenditure campaign. About half the group's money came from a variety of organizations, including the Washington Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, the Washington State Labor Council political-action committee, and Justice for All, a lawyer PAC.

The other half came from the Democratic Governor's Association (DGA) based in Washington, D.C. Top contributors to the DGA include the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the drug company Pfizer and Blue Cross/Blue Shield, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In addition, several other groups including Washington Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood and the Service Employees International Union have spent more than $1 million supporting Inslee.

If you add the $13.5 million raised by McKenna's campaign to the amount raised and spent by independent campaigns supporting him, he had about $25.6 million in total resources this election.

That gave him around a $3.5 million advantage over Democrat Jay Inslee, although $1 million of that is apparently still sitting in the RGA's account.

Inslee has raised a total of $11.7 million for his campaign.

Sterling Clifford, Inslee's campaign spokesman, downplayed the money gap. "Republicans almost always spend more money, and you sort of take that into account in you're planning," he said. "Everyone involved in this campaign has been on (one) where they've been outspent before. It's not terribly new."

Back in 2008, GOP candidate Dino Rossi had about a $4 million advantage over Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire when independent expenditures from the Republican Governors Association and the Building Industry Association of Washington, BIAW, were factored in. Rossi lost that race.

The BIAW, with new leadership and a smaller budget, has bowed out of this election.

Overall, contributions and expenditures in the governor's race are about comparable to four years ago, which is a change from past elections when the amount of money spent by gubernatorial campaigns seemed to increase exponentially every four years.

This could represent a pause in the escalation, a hangover from the Great Recession.

Or "it might be wishful thinking, but maybe we've hit a ceiling," said Todd Donovan, a political-science professor at Western Washington University. "There are diminishing returns on advertising spending at some point."

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or agarber@seattletimes.com.

Material from The Seattle Times archives was used in this story.


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