Better Spokane and City Propositions 1 & 2

Better Spokane, the local organization backing Props 1 and 2, is another political outlet for a group of wealthy business people. Better Spokane, like the Washington Policy Center, is  “a conservative political organization that identifies itself as a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) educational organization under tax guidelines in order to keep its donors secret and avoid paying taxes. is organized as a non-profit 501(c)(3).” (Quoting Shawn Vestal on WPC.) This is exactly the strategy of the rest of the web of conservative non-profits described in Jane Mayer’s book, Dark Money. A Journal of Business article from January, 2017, around the time of Better Spokane’s founding, provides some strong clues about its funding. The organization then had a single employee, Michael Cathcart, the executive director and a current conservative candidate for Spokane City Council in NE Spokane (District 1). Better Spokane has a Board of just six members. From the Journal of Business article:

Michael Senske, president and CEO of Pearson Packaging Systems, the West Plains-based maker of packaging equipment, is one of the board members. He says the organization is being funded through private donations.

“Several of us discussed creating an organization that would be engaged in creating an environment more conducive to income and job growth, as well as business expansion and retention,” says Senske.

The organization’s other board members are Ryan Gee, of Gee Automotive; Dave Clack, a retired Spokane businessman; business attorney Dennis McLaughlin, business attorney; and Fritz H. Wolff and his father Alvin J. Wolff, both of The Wolff Co. 

Senske says the three older members of the organization’s board, Clack, McLaughlin, and Alvin Wolff, act as mentors to its younger members. 

Fritz H. Wolff is CEO of the multibillion dollar real estate firm, The Wolfe Company. The Wolfe Company owns and operates 30,000 rental units nationwide. Mr. Wolfe, his company, and its history were featured on the front page of the Sunday Spokesman, October 20. in an article detailing the unprecedented intrusion of “independent” money backing Woodward, Wendle, Rathbun, and Cathcart. According to the Spokesman, in the last two years Fritz and Katie Wolff have contributed at least $211,000 to conservative groups and politicians, an amount that is likely comparative pocket change for them, money that could pay big dividends.

We cannot know the additional funds backing Better Spokane (that money is “dark”), but Wolfe, Senske (as R.A. Pearson), and Gee are prominent conservative donors to local Republican candidates and the PACs that are spending huge sums in independent expenditures in support of those candidates. The tax deductible donations to Better Spokane are above and beyond the overt political spending, additional money to buy influence in politics, money the Spokesman article doesn’t get around to discussing.

If passed, both Propositions 1 and 2 would, in the long term, offer a great return on investment for the members of Better Spokane’s Board. Prop 1 is meant as a blow to unions in contract negotiations. Prop. 2 is an attempt to buy income tax insurance, tax insurance mostly to shield the wealthy.

Proposition 1‘s title is “Charter Amendment Regarding Open Government and Transparency in City Government,” but the amendment only pertains to transparency in “collective bargaining.” Collective bargaining is code for unions. This is selective transparency. Any bargaining City officials might do with, for example, The Wolfe Company, would not be subject to this Amendment. “Transparency” has a nice ring, but when it is applied asymmetrically it is a tool. Consider the real purpose of this Proposition and vote NO.

Proposition 2 proposes a charter amendment prohibiting the City of Spokane from ever leveling a tax on income. Has anyone heard anyone propose such a tax? No. It would be political suicide, especially if the average wage earner in the City were made subject to an income tax. Michael Cathcart, in a radio interview on KPBX, admits there is no income tax on the City’s horizon. Proposition 2 is an advertisement to the wealthy: “Establish residence here. This is fertile ground to grow your wealth. See, the electorate here is so brainwashed they’ve declared they’ll never tax even the highest incomes! Moreover, they’ve made this declaration even without being provoked!” Vote NO.

Carefully consider the source and intent of these initiatives when you vote. While you’re at it consider that the developers and wealthy interests on Better Spokane Board pay Michael Cathcart’s salary. At least in 2017 Michael Cathcart was Better Spokane’s only employee. Who will he serve if he is elected to the Spokane City Council from northeast Spokane (District 1)? His opponent, Tim Benn, an ally of Mike Fagan and Matt Shea, is frightening, but probably less likely to be effective in pushing his agenda. I agree with the writers of the Progressive Voters Guide, “There are no good choices in [that] race…”

The members of the Board of Better Spokane have blown it’s cover with unprecedented Republican partisan political spending in this year’s Spokane municipal elections in support of deeply conservative candidates. The Journal of Business article quotes Michael Senske, “We’re a very nonpartisan organization…” What a joke.

Keep to the high ground,