Fuse Washington created the tongue-in-cheek ‘Save Our Yachts’ website to poke fun at those pushing a ballot measure to repeal the capital gains tax that is paid by the state’s super wealthy. (Screenshot)

Fuse Washington created the tongue-in-cheek ‘Save Our Yachts’ website to poke fun at those pushing a ballot measure to repeal the capital gains tax that is paid by the state’s super wealthy. (Screenshot)

Attack websites seep into WA election battles

Such undertakings tend to change few minds and can incite a backlash, especially in communities where negative campaigning is not the norm.

  • By Jerry Cornfield Washington State Standard
  • Friday, July 5, 2024 9:30am
  • Northwest

Bob Ferguson, Semi Bird, Jim Henderson and Brian Heywood have something in common this election season in Washington.

Their political opponents have built websites to spread unflattering information – and in some cases misinformation – about them.

There’s “BobforBob” looking into Ferguson’s political history and “bird-docs.com” digging into Bird’s past personal tribulations. “Save Our Yachts” jabs the wealthy Heywood for pushing an initiative to repeal the capital gains tax and “realjimhenderson” is an attack by Republicans on a first-time GOP candidate for legislative office.

These creations aren’t expected to go viral or significantly alter the trajectory of any of the ballot battles but are viewed by their creators as a tool to educate, and maybe sway, a few voters.

“They are very much fodder for people looking to use negatives to put a partisan in their place,” said Cathy Allen, owner of The Connections Group and veteran Democrat campaign consultant.

Take BobforBob.com. It delves into a select few pieces of the political record of Ferguson, the three-term Democrat attorney general running for governor. Links to and excerpts from news accounts fill the site. It is not flashy and is laid out a bit like a research paper.

But make no mistake, it’s packed with jabs.

“Previously, Ferguson worked as Attorney General of Washington suing small-business owners, withholding evidence, waging lawfare, and extorting corporations for campaign donations,” is the opening line.

Peter Graves of Axiom Strategies, the Republican consulting firm behind BobforBob.com, said ideally it will be one of the first websites to show up when someone searches for background on Ferguson.

“The goal here is to obviously get out information about Bob Ferguson and for the research to be used to help others make decisions,” he said.

Bayley Burgess, Ferguson’s campaign manager, blasted the website as “a fever dream of baseless rants, and not worthy of additional comment.”

“What voters care about is the direction of our state and country,” she said in an email.

Such undertakings tend to change few minds and can incite a backlash, especially in communities where negative campaigning is not the norm, said Bill Phillips of Sound Strategies, a Democratic consulting firm.

“It feels good for supporters. It feels like you’re making a difference. It feels like you’re getting your message out,” said Phillips, a former leader of the Snohomish County Democratic Party. “In the entire history of the internet, I have never met one Democrat who has said I was going to vote one way and then I saw this website.”

Family feud, take 1

Steve Gordon, a Pierce County Republican, shelled out a few hundred dollars to launch the ominous-looking bird-docs.com in April.

“Is Semi Bird the best choice for governor of Washington state? We won’t tell you how to vote. You be the judge” is a headline atop the site promising “facts” about the GOP gubernatorial candidate.

Scroll down and one finds links to videos and public records concerning Bird’s legal wranglings, military service and recall from the Richland School Board.

Gordon said he sought to get information to Republicans ahead of the state party convention in Spokane in April where Bird and Dave Reichert were to compete for the party’s endorsement.

The effort didn’t prevent Bird from securing the endorsement by an overwhelming margin. But he’s struggled since the convention to gain momentum.

At the convention, Bird acknowledged his past troubles. “If you want me to apologize for making mistakes, I will apologize. I will not live in shame for the rest of my life,” he said.

Since then he has assailed some fellow Republicans as “vile individuals” working to undercut his campaign.

Gordon also cut a $25,000 check to the political action committee funding the site targeting Ferguson. “I don’t know if people will cover some of Bob’s record as they should,” he said.

Fun on the water

Fuse Washington, the state’s largest progressive organization, got lighter and snarkier with SaveOurYachts.com. It is part of its opposition campaign to Initiative 2109, a measure on the November ballot to repeal the state’s capital gains tax.

It is one of three measures that qualified for the ballot through the efforts of Let’s Go Washington, a conservative political action committee largely funded by Heywood, a millionaire hedge fund manager.

It pokes fun at the extremely wealthy whose capital gains tax payments go to early learning and child care programs.

“We have a new hero in Brian Heywood,” begins one section. “He understands that many of us are upgrading our yachts for the summer, and now is NOT the time for us to keep paying taxes on our Wall Street profits.”

Aaron Ostrom, executive director of Fuse, said it is intended to motivate and engage their base. It had received 33,153 total visits as of June 25, which Ostrom said exceeded his expectations.

“It’s not like this is how we’re going to win the election,” he said. “We want to give our folks some laughs.”

Family feud, take 2

In Pierce County, an intra-party battle for a Republican-held state House seat spawned a nasty site against a newcomer.

It’s in the 26th Legislative District where Republican Rep. Spencer Hutchins’ decision to not run again creates a vacancy. Republicans Jesse Young and Jim Henderson and Democrat Adison Richards are competing in the primary.

Young is trying to return to Olympia where he served as a state representative before losing to Democratic state Sen. Emily Randall in 2022. Henderson is new to the district and making his first bid for state office.

The Pierce County Republican Party endorsed Young and its members created realjimhenderson.com to prevent a Henderson upset. Launched last month, it attacks the newcomer primarily for being too new, too liberal and too friendly with Democrats.

There’s also personal information, such as Henderson’s home address, and references to Henderson being gay.

“They wanted to send a stern message that he’s not a Republican. I think it sends the message without it being over the top,” said Pierce County Republican Party Chairman Dave McMullan.

He rejected assertions some content is homophobic but said the county party is “against the Pride agenda. We don’t need a month for it.”

Henderson said he moved into the district to run for the seat but no one recruited him to do so. He’s secured backing of several House caucus members. He’s supported Democrats with whom he’s able to work on issues. And he said being gay is not an element of his campaign or driving his platform.

“I don’t even talk about it,” he said, noting those in the Pierce County Republican Party “are the only ones who have come after me because I’m gay.”

He said the website creates “all false positions for me” and it won’t impact the primary.

“My sense is that it is only effective with the far-right. I wasn’t going to get their vote anyway,” he said. Most voters who see it “will be disgusted. They don’t want the fighting and this kind of nastiness,” he said.

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: info@washingtonstatestandard.com. Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.

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