Saturday, October 1, 2011

Special Interest vs Special Interest

The campaigns for this year’s election have arrived in force. Starting a few weeks ago, the obligatory barrage of television ads telling me which way to vote on initiative such and such began in earnest. For those of you outside of Washington State, our little corner of the Northwest goes a little crazy with the whole direct democracy thing. We had 11 ballot initiatives to choose from in 2010! This is mainly because we allow paid signature gathering which means any half baked idea with several million dollars to spend can get on the ballot and change Washington law.

Most of the time these initiatives offer a clear choice between the public interest and special interest. For example last year we had the American Beverage Association spending the most money in Washington State History to repeal new taxes on soda and candy passed by our legislature to close our state’s large budget deficit. They narrowly won after spending more than $11 million almost exclusively on Television ads.

This year however the only initiative with any real spending on either side is I-1183, Costco’s rehashed attempt to end Washington State’s state controlled liquor system. After failing to convince us they should get to sell hard alcohol in their stores (along with every other store) they are back with an awesome new provision. Their strategy to defeat the winning message from last year, that increased availability of liquor in gas stations would lead to more drunk driving and underage drinking, is to include a requirement that any store selling liquor would have to be larger than 10,000 square feet.

Pretty clever.

But the special interests on the other side of this debate (mainly the national liquor distributors who have contracts with the state government and the state employee unions who don’t want to lose their government jobs in the liquor stores) are not to be outdone. They learned the lessons from the last election cycle and are focusing their campaign on the scary idea of liquor in gas stations (regardless of how tenuous this contention may be based on a loophole in the law) and wait for it…

The even scarier idea of new taxes!

So rather than have a real debate about public policy and what choice Washington State should make, these two competing special interests are battling back and forth with near saturation levels of television spending.

Now I watch jeopardy, really the only thing on television I bother to watch anymore, so I see the ads targeted to the elderly. Think, lots of Gold Bond medicated powder and Metamucil. But the audience that watches Jeopardy votes and spending your campaign dollars here makes way more sense than cable or god forbid, direct mail!

I mean look at this thing, I kept this out of the recycling bin only because I am a huge political nerd and wanted to see how this campaign was wasting its money.

So what did the political consultants suggest they do? Put a screen capture of the Public Disclosure Commission’s website showing the contributions from the out of state liquor distributors. That could be a compelling message to the .001% of the population that even knows that we have a PDC or what it does, if you couldn’t go to the PDC website for yourself and see the $5 million in contributions from Costco.

But moreover, no one cares! We all seem to have accepted that our politics are dominated by special interests who don’t really give a damn about the American people. So telling us that one side is funded by big liquor distributors immediately makes me ask, “well who is funding your campaign?”

So special interest vs. special interest. What is the informed citizen to do?

Well it seems to me that what I-1183 will actually do is make liquor easier for big stores to sell, lower the price and reduce the amount of revenue the state will receive. Oh yeah and probably be a job killer since it doesn’t take nearly as many people to stock the liquor aisle at Costco as it does to run the state liquor stores around the state.

I am going to vote no on I-1183.

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