Estate-tax lobbying at issue
Seattle Times chief political reporter
Excerpts from the blog
With another estate-tax vote on the horizon, Sen. Maria Cantwell is again the focus of Republicans searching for supporters and pundits looking to prognosticate.
Bloomberg News on Wednesday elevated Cantwell to the senator who may hold the "crucial vote" over whether to repeal the tax. Bloomberg also reports:
"Cantwell's state is also home to outspoken advocates on both sides of the estate tax issue. Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen has been a leader in the decade-long campaign to wipe out the tax, while William H. Gates (Sr.), father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the world's richest man, is urging lawmakers to keep it."
Whenever the estate tax comes up, Blethen's name is not far behind. And with another Senate vote coming up, and an initiative on the November ballot to repeal the state's estate tax, it seemed a good time to ask Blethen about his political activity.
We talked on the phone Wednesday.
"This is the whole issue: Is Maria responsive to D.C. Democratic Party bosses or is she responsive to the people of the state of Washington?" Blethen said.
He said he and his lobbyist, Jill Mackie, have lobbied Cantwell as well as Sen. Patty Murray and the state's House delegation.
Blethen said he knows that people in the newsroom are uncomfortable with his political activity on the estate tax. He said editor Mike Fancher has made that clear on many occasions.
Does it pose a conflict to lobby a senator who will soon be looking for an endorsement from the paper's editorial board?
"No, it doesn't," Blethen said. "All of our endorsements are based on a whole range of public-policy issues and their philosophies on them, as well as their past behaviors on them."
Blethen points out that the paper endorsed Democrat Cantwell in 2000 over Sen. Slade Gorton, even though the Republican incumbent fully supported the family position on the estate tax. Cantwell, he said, "was never for our position; always this nebulous, 'I'm for reform.'
"So we had a candidate who was a huge champion for our position versus one who was totally in the other camp, and we chose to endorse her."
Blethen said he doesn't plan to make any political donations to Initiative 920, which would repeal the state estate tax. But the corporate side of The Times is involved.
"Jill has been having some conversations with some of the folks who are putting together the campaign," he said. "We may be involved on the periphery because people keep calling us. But we're not going to make any political donations, and I may do the things I normally do, which is talking to groups like minority groups."
To that end, Blethen has a new angle on lobbying for estate-tax repeal. He wants to enlist gays and lesbians in the effort.
He said that especially with last week's state Supreme Court decision upholding a gay-marriage ban, same-sex couples should be concerned about the tax hit on their assets. If they could marry, they'd qualify for a partial exemption on estate taxes. But now there's no chance of that in Washington.
Blethen said that, in light of the gay-marriage decision, there could be increased interest among gays and lesbians in the estate-tax issue. Log Cabin Republicans, the organization of gay Republicans, already supports repeal of the tax.
This material has been edited for print publication.
David Postman is The Seattle Times' chief political reporter. His column appears Fridays. Reach him at 360-236-8267 or at email@example.com
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