OLYMPIA, Wash. – In just the first three months of 2011, lobbying interests spent nearly $14 million in Olympia. That's according to new numbers from Washington's Public Disclosure Commission. The top spenders? The union that represents home health care workers and aerospace giant Boeing.
The Boeing House across the street from Washington's Capitol Campus. Photo by Austin Jenkins
SEIU 775 tops the list of lobbying spenders so far this year. The union represents more than 40,000 home care workers in Washington.
Spokesman Adam Glickman says much of the nearly $246,000 spent in first quarter 2011 was to bus in purple-clad members for lobby days like this one. Glickman says after a decade of growing clout in Olympia, SEIU 775 is playing defense this year.
The goal: to minimize the impact of budget cuts.
Adam Glickman: "You know I think they probably would be worse if homecare workers and their clients weren't talking to legislators everyday and every week. But we certainly can't say that we've been incredibly successful thus far."
SEIU's opponents might beg to differ. Both House and Senate budgets partially restore funding the governor zeroed out for home care worker training – part of a voter approved initiative.
Number two on the list of lobbyist spenders in Olympia is Boeing at nearly $200,000 as of the end of March.
Boeing has long had a permanent foothold in Olympia.
I'm standing outside what's known as the Boeing House. Turns out the big airplane company maintains a little home right across the street from the Capitol campus. It's sometimes jokingly referred to as the owner's box.
Boeing spokeswoman Susan Bradley says the company recently decided to re-engage with the Washington legislature on issues of what she calls "business competitiveness."
Susan Bradley: "It requires a lot of effort, it requires a more assertive posture, it requires more engagement and it follows that it requires more resourcing and that resourcing comes with a price tag."
One of Boeing's top issues this year: overhauling the state's injured workers system. It's a message Governor Chris Gregoire has received.
Gov. Gregoire: "I've made it clear to those who are intimately involved in the negotiations in both the House and the Senate that I think this is an important for Boeing."
Rounding out the top five lobbyist spenders in Olympia this year are nursing homes, the state's hospital association and the Association of Washington Business.
Professor Clive Thomas is a fellow at Washington State University's Foley School. For thirty years he's tracked lobbying in all fifty states. He says the money spent is to build relationships.
Clive Thomas: "If you have access you're probably going to have influence over them. And it's not just in lobbying, it's in life."
Thomas' research shows historically Boeing has been the most influential interest group in Washington politics. But in recent years labor unions have won that mantle in Democratically controlled Olympia.
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