Anyone remember the Building Industry Association of Washington? They were the main evil-doers behind last year's repeal of Washington State's ergonomics standard. Evil, because their campaign was based on lies and more lies -- up to including the suggestion that if you didn't vote for the initiative repealing the standard, your children would get sick and die. (Think I'm kidding, check here.)
Of course, they had to lie, because if they had told the truth (e.g. that the ergonomics standard protected people from back injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome, and was actually good for business), they would have lost. (Is it true that once upon a time, political battles in this country were actually fought over issues, as opposed to lies and red herrings?)
But it's one thing to lie. It's another to use public money to fund your lies:
City governments are helping fill the coffers of the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), the state's most aggressive conservative lobby. The cities' contribution to the organization's political efforts is not large, but it is ironic. The BIAW is known for rabid opposition to government regulation and a virulent campaign style. It's one of the biggest political spenders in the state. This past election cycle, it spent between $1.7 million and $1.8 million, mostly in support of three candidates: Republican gubernatorial hopeful Dino Rossi, Republican Attorney General–elect Rob McKenna, and conservative state Supreme Court Justice–elect Jim Johnson. Erin Shannon, the BIAW's public relations director, is thrilled with the results: "It was a big 'Fuck you!' to all the liberals out there."How do they do it? BIAW runs a workers compensation insurance pool in which nearly two dozen municipalities participate. The workers comp contributions are pooled and when the contributions exceed the premiums required by the state, the BIAW rebates the money -- minus 20% with which it funds its staff -- and engages in political activity -- generally anti-labor political activity. The Washington State Labor Council, which thinks they may be a better use for workers compensation funds, is trying make municipalities aware that the BIAW uses some portion of its fees for partisan political activites and to change the way the state allows the fund to operate in order "to cut the funding out from under them."
Rossi, in particular, having been a real-estate agent, has long-standing BIAW ties. The group was instrumental in his first election victory in 1996, and he has voted the BIAW's way 99 percent of the time during his seven years in the state Senate. The Seattle Times has reported that Rossi and two BIAW lobbyists even bought an apartment building together.
The BIAW responded in its characteristically civil way. According to Erin Shannon, the BIAW's public relations director:
"We are kicking their ass. How many years have we whipped labor?" Indeed, the BIAW has been on a roll lately. It might have won the trifecta—governor, attorney general, and a Supreme Court justice—and in recent years it successfully blocked reform of unemployment insurance (Referendum 53) and ergonomic standards (Initiative 841). Shannon points out, and the state confirms, that cities were given the green light to participate in the BIAW insurance program. She argues that once the BIAW collects its fees, the money no longer belongs to taxpayers but to a private organization that can do what it wants with the cash. If you accept labor's logic about taxpayer funds, Shannon says, then the union dues paid by state workers that help fund the Labor Council's political activity is also government money. "We have never gone after labor unions' source of revenue," Shannon says. "But if they keep coming after us, the time is right to take some swings at labor unions—defund them."I can't quite figure out how funding the BIA's political activities with cities' workers comp fees is the same thing as simply passing union dues from workers to the union, especially considering that workers paying union dues already have a right to have the portion of their dues used for politics rebated.
In any case, whose ass ends up being kicked by whom probably depends on who the next Governor of Washington is: Labor-supported Chris Gregoire, or BIAW buddy Dino Rossi. Right now Gregoire trails Rossi by 261 votes statewide -- out of 2.8 million votes cast. A recount is under way.