Thursday, October 22, 2009

In Which I Do The Washington State Democrats' Work For Them

Caption: Snow enough to build a snow bear (and puppy). This is an example of the local issues I usually cover.

Image credit: Cujo359

Today, I received another of those "send us money" letters from my local Democrats. What makes it interesting, in that bad sort of way that such letters are often interesting at this time in the election cycle, is this little bit:

From: "Dwight Pelz, Washington State Democrats"
To: Me
Subject: Re: The lies she tells...
Date: Oct 22, 2009 12:32 PM

There are 12 days left in this election, and Susan Hutchison will say anything to win.

In fact, she keeps lying to the voters in an attempt to hide her true beliefs and her right-wing ideology.
"I am non-partisan." The TRUTH - Hutchison has given over $15,000 to right-wing Republican candidates and causes including George W. Bush, Dino Rossi, and Mike Huckbee. There are no records of her contributing to any Democratic candidate.

On a women's right to choose - "I will uphold the law of the land" (Seattle Times 9/23/09). The TRUTH - Hutchison is on the Board of the Stewardship Foundation, a right-wing fundamentalist group that has given $425,000 to anti-choice causes since 2005. These include "crisis pregnancy centers" in Virginia and Pierce County, WA, and $105,000 to Americans United for Life, America's "oldest national pro-life organization." These organizations are trying to dismantle Roe vs. Wade.

Needless to say it goes on. This particular bit is interesting, because I'd never heard of this organization, and because there was no actual proof offered, even of the specific claim of $425k going to anti-abortion causes. The Internet provides all sorts of opportunities, via the technology of hypertext, for displaying one's proof. Yet there were no links provided in the letter that back up what the Washington State (WA) Democrats claim. I spent some time trying to do their work for them, and here's what I found.

It appears that Hutchison is a part of the Stewardship Foundation (TSF), which, its website says, was founded by David Weyerhauser to help Christian charities become more efficient:

Dave’s philosophy of giving was established early on (partly informed by his father’s disinclination to support capital projects), giving almost exclusively to organizations’ general operations. Concerned that some organizations might stray from their stated mission and goals, Dave followed his father’s encouragement, supporting operating costs rather than bricks and mortar. Part of Dave’s giving also related to his understanding of the Biblical principle of anonymity. He never allowed his name to be attached to a building or program in his lifetime, conducting philanthropy in a quiet and unassuming way.

The Stewardship Foundation: Our Founder

As an aside, I'll just say that this is one bit of true biblical wisdom - charity that's done anonymously, with no hope of any reward, is true charity. Of course, this also makes chasing down what the Stewardship Foundation is actually about a bit harder. As the man said, organizations don't always stick to their charters.

Speaking of which, TSF is listed as an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 501.c.(3) organization, which is a non-profit organization that does not try to influence politics. The website mentions many charitable causes that TSF supports, but if it were really about influencing politics, it would not be able to say so. As we'll see, it has sometimes had an effect on politics in the past.

Here's a screenshot of Hutchison from the board of directors page:

Image credit: Screenshot by Cujo359

So this much is true, Hutchison is on the board of directors for this organization.

I haven't found any ties with the anti-choice movement, but here's a tie to the Discovery Institute, thanks to The Seattle Times:

Discovery Institute funders, including the Maclellan Foundation in Chattanooga, Tenn., have open religious agendas. Another donor, the Stewardship Foundation of Tacoma, says it "provides resources to Christ-centered organizations whose mission is to share their faith in Jesus Christ." Its founder, the late David Weyerhaeuser, was also interested in science, [DI director Stephen] Meyer said.

Seattle's Discovery Institute Scrambling To Rebound After Intelligent-Design Ruling

The American Prospect adds:

And then there's Stephen C. Meyer, a Cambridge history and philosophy of science Ph.D. and anti-abortion Christian. Meyer has been described as “the person who brought ID to DI” by historian Edward Larson (who was a fellow at the Discovery Institute prior to its anti-evolutionist awakening). Seeking to institutionalize the ID movement, Meyer turned to timber-industry magnate C. Davis Weyerhaeuser, who was until his death a major funder of Christian evangelism in the United States through his Stewardship Foundation. According to Larson, Weyerhaeuser provided key “seed money” to establish the Discovery Institute's ID program.

Inferior Design

Both articles appear to be based on Meyer's claims, but I'll take that as some sign of a relationship. This report on the DI claims the amount the Stewardship Foundation gave the Discovery Institute was in the vicinity of a million dollars.

A website called Public Eye identified "The Stewardship Foundation (Washington)" as having given $75,000 to Focus On The Family (FOF), a group of right-wing nutjobs whose purpose in life is to associate their particular fears and superstitions with healthy family life. They gave FOF this money back in 1990-1992. There is another Stewardship Foundation in Washington, but that one was founded afterward.

One of the reasons I mention this other Stewardship Foundation is that there are quite a few organizations with that or a similar name. That's another thing to keep in mind when checking out this story. There's a Stewardship Foundation in Milwaukee that seems to be very active, also.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington (state) reports that Dave Weyerhauser personally gave money to the Citizens Alliance of Washington (CAW), an anti-gay initiative effort:

The largest individual contribution to WPAC was $20,000 from C. Davis Weyerhaeuser, a retired member of the wealthy timber industry family. The family operates the Stewardship Foundation, a charitable organization which donates to conservative Christian organizations.

The Religious Right in Washington

The mention of the TSF is the reason this article came up on my search, but it wasn't the organization that made that contribution. This donation was made back in 1994, which is prior to Hutchison's involvement on the board of directors (according to TSF's history (PDF), directors serve for a maximum of nine one-year terms).

In summary, there seems little direct evidence that the WA Democrats' claim that the Stewardship Foundation is anti-abortion. It might be, and I wouldn't be surprised to find that it is, but I see no evidence of it. One of the basic areas of interest it identifies is:

Children at Risk: Outreach and support of vulnerable children, protecting them from abuse and unfair treatment. Solutions and best practices which enable children to develop into the people God created them to be.

The Stewardship Foundation: Guidelines & Themes

Anti-abortion proponents do think of fetuses, no matter how immature, as children. But that gets into the dangerous realm of trying to interpret so-called "dog whistles", phrases that mean something to a particular group but seem innocuous to the rest of us. For all we really know, they could be referring to children of poor people who need vaccines, education, or shelter. In contrast to TSF's funding of the Discovery Institute, which is ostensibly an educational institute, funding anti-abortion causes could be viewed as a violation of its IRS tax-exempt status.

On the specific charge that TSF gave money to an anti-abortion group in Virginia, there would seem to be an even stronger case against believing this. TSF's Guidelines and Themes page also says this:

Domestically, grants are made to agencies that have a national impact except for local agencies serving the citizens of Tacoma, Pierce County, and the Puget Sound Region.

The Stewardship Foundation: Guidelines & Themes

I don't see how an anti-abortion "counseling" center, or whatever that place is supposed to be, is a thing that would "have a national impact". So, such a contribution would appear to violate their charter.

If the WA Democrats have a case to make here, I think it needs to make it. Just making accusations like this is not acceptable political rhetoric, at least not to me. It's another thing best left to the opposition. This is the age of the Internet. If they've done research to back up this claim, they can put a link to it in a funding letter. It's clearly more than a few hours of searching the Internet can turn up. If they don't have any such evidence, then they should shut up and stick to the facts.

[UPDATE: A scan of the WA Democrats' press releases and news articles turned up no articles on this subject.]

I'll just add that if you're tempted to make some criticism of what I've failed to locate here, then I suggest you check the local issues keyword of this blog. Most of what you'll find has to do with the Mariners (our local Major League Baseball team), pictures of things, and the occasional relationship local issues have to things I do cover. I don't typically do local issues. I'm in the position of being a typical voter here, just trying to sort out fact from nonsense in a short time. I have often cautioned people to be very skeptical of claims like this made just prior to an election. They are often hard to check out, and frequently turn out not to be true. That gives the WA Democrats extra reason to back up what they say with some proof. If they don't like what they're reading here, they need to do a better job of justifying their claims.

UPDATE: Besides the note about having checked the WA Democrats' home page for information, I also corrected the title of this article. Earlier, it had incorrectly identified the King County Democrats as the source of this letter.

UPDATE 2: A query of the FEC contributions query site confirms that Hutchison only gave to Republican candidates in quantities large enough to show up. Specifically, she supported George W. Bush, Dave Reichert, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, Mike Huckabee, Doug Roulstone, and George Nethercutt.

The grand total of that query was $8,250, not the $15,000 claimed by the WA Democrats' e-mail. It's possible, of course, that the rest is in smaller amounts, or is just not recorded as being from Susan Hutchison for some reason. As a sanity check, I put my own name in the query box, and it came up with no contributions. Over the years, I'd say I've given about a third to a half what Hutchison has given to Republicans to Democrats or independent candidates. I've just never given a large amount to any one candidate.

The records, in short, are a bit hard to query sometimes.

To repeat my query, just type "Hutchison" in the first box, "Susan" in the second, and then choose "Washington" from the list of states.

I replied to the e-mail, incidentally. Pelz, or someone in his office, replied but provided no new information. My guess is that they don't get the problem here. The response on the matter of campaign contributions was that they were a matter of public record. The public record appears to come up $6,750 $4,750 short of the WA Democrats' claim.

UPDATE 3: Oops, there were three "grand totals" on the FEC query. Added together, they represent $10,250. That makes the WA Democrats' claim off by $4,750.


Dana Hunter said...

I think you scared them away. Your Google-fu is better than their Google-fu. Or something.

Or maybe they're just washing their hair. A lot.

Cujo359 said...

They have yet to provide any new information, that much is for sure. Why that is, I have no idea.