Out-of-state donors feed Gregoire fund

OLYMPIA — For months, Democratic candidate for governor Christine Gregoire has been warning her supporters that out-of-state interests were going to bankroll Republican Dino Rossi's campaign.

But with the election now less than a week away, it's clear Gregoire is the one who is getting far more support from outside Washington.

During the past month, for instance, private lawyers who made a fortune on the 1998 national tobacco settlement that Gregoire helped engineer recently gave more than $1 million to the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), Gregoire's single biggest campaign supporter.

Record-setting race

Gregoire and Rossi together have raised more than $11 million in direct contributions — nearly double the record total raised in 2000 by Gov. Gary Locke and his Republican challenger. On top of that, the DGA has spent about $2.4 million on Gregoire's behalf, and the Republican Governors Association has spent about $1.7 million to help Rossi.

Nearly a half of Gregoire's support has come from out of state, about double what Rossi has gotten.

Gregoire's huge advantage in out-of-state support is the opposite of what she began predicting four months ago.

In June, Gregoire and her campaign spread a rumor that national Republican leaders had promised $9 million to Rossi.

Though Gregoire could never verify the rumor, which she said came from a reporter, she repeated it in fund-raising letters and campaign appearances.

"They're going to come at us with $9 million," Gregoire told the 1,500 delegates at the state Democratic Party convention. She urged fellow Democrats to "show them Washington state will not be bought."

Both candidates are pleading for more last-minute donations.

Gregoire's campaign manager sent out messages informing supporters that her lead in the polls is slipping and warning of new attacks by Rossi's allies in the Bush White House.

Rossi, meanwhile, recently sent out a letter warning supporters that his campaign was "down to our last few thousand dollars" — actually, it still had $122,000 as of this week — and running out of time to counter attacks by Gregoire and the Democrats.

Until this month, the bulk of Gregoire's out-of-state support could be attributed to EMILY's List, a national group whose prime mission is electing pro-choice Democratic women. The group has helped to solicit thousands of donations for Gregoire from women in every state.

But during the past month alone, the Democratic Governors Association sent nearly $2 million to the state Democratic Party, which is waging an aggressive campaign attacking Rossi.

Big gifts for Gregoire

The DGA's big donation to the state party came at about the same time the association received several large donations from some of Gregoire's biggest supporters. The Washington Federation of State Employees, for instance, gave $200,000 this month to the DGA.

Private lawyers who had worked alongside Gregoire on the tobacco settlement were even more generous.

Gregoire was the lead state attorney in negotiating the national tobacco settlement that is projected to pay out $206 billion to 46 states, including an estimated $4.5 billion to Washington.

Lawyers hired by the states to help take their cases to court received millions of dollars in fees from the settlement. Those lawyers and their firms already have contributed heavily to Gregoire's campaign, around $100,000 in direct donations.

On Oct. 8, the DGA got $200,000 from Richard Scruggs, a prominent tobacco attorney who also has made direct contributions to Gregoire's campaign. Scruggs said his firm made between $900 million and $1 billion in fees on the tobacco litigation. Scruggs did not work for Washington on the tobacco litigation, but represented other states and observed Gregoire as she put together the national settlement.

"I feel like [Gregoire] is a great public servant and she did a great job for the state of Washington ... in the tobacco litigation," he said.

On the same date Scruggs donated to the DGA, the group got an additional $765,000 from Joseph Rice and a corporation, MRRM P.A., that lists Rice as its agent. Rice was part of a team of attorneys representing Washington state in its tobacco lawsuit. He worked closely with Gregoire in crafting the 1998 national settlement. He and lawyers at his firm also made direct contributions to her campaign.

And last month, the law firm of Hagens Berman in Seattle contributed $200,000 to the DGA. Steve Berman, an attorney at the firm, was part of a team of attorneys that represented Washington state in a lawsuit against the tobacco companies.

It's not possible to specifically tie individual donors to the DGA to Gregoire's campaign; however, Scruggs said, Gregoire was uppermost in his mind when he made his contribution. "She was one of our colleagues and close friends in the tobacco wars, and I'd certainly like to see her get as much of it as possible, but it is not my call," Scruggs said.

Meyer Koplow, the former lead negotiator for cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris, also contributed $10,000 earlier this month to the DGA. Koplow represented the tobacco industry when Gregoire played a lead role in crafting the settlement.

Ralph Thomas: 360-943-9882 or rthomas@seattletimes.com