Republican leader is top fundraiser in Whatcom primary for state seat

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 4, 2014 

Luanne Van Werven

Luanne Van Werven

KAREN MULLEN — COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

The race for the seat vacated by Rep. Jason Overstreet in the state House of Representatives is wide open, with two Republicans, a Democrat and a Libertarian squaring off in the Aug. 5 primary.

As diverse as they may be politically, nothing sets them apart as much as the campaign money they've received.

Not surprisingly, Luanne Van Werven, well known in the Republican Party, had a big lead in donations as she vies for a position in a district where the two representatives and the state senator are all Republican. (Legislative District 42 includes all of Whatcom County except south Bellingham and the southwest county.)

Van Werven, until recently the vice chairwoman of the Washington State Republican Party, had raised more than $36,000 for her campaign as of Thursday, July 3.

"My campaign contributions came from a wide variety of people, and it wasn't limited to the Republican Party," Van Werven said. In fact, Van Werven had reported no contributions from the state, district or county party offices.

At the other end of the fundraising spectrum was Nick Kunkel, the 27-year-old Libertarian who is not accepting donations from businesses or anyone outside the state. He was a few dollars short of $800 raised as of Thursday.

"To me, it's not about how much money you can raise," Kunkel said. "It's about the message you carry."

"The dollars that they're getting largely is because of a political machine that's already in place," Kunkel said of his opponents. "The political machine is not something we want to rely on, and we don't think spreading the message of the same old, same old will resonate anyway."

Van Werven also had a distinct fundraising advantage over her Republican rival, Bill Knutzen. The former Whatcom County Council member had raised $11,450 as of Thursday.

In past elections, Knutzen's donors typically have been individuals who live in the county. One of his three top donors for this race, giving the maximum $950, was the BP North America Employee Political Action Committee, based in Houston. Knutzen's other 54 donors were all from Whatcom or Skagit County.

"We have a grassroots campaign just like we've always done," Knutzen said. "We're on schedule. Before the primary, our fundraising will increase a lot."

Satpal Sidhu, the Lynden Democrat trying to break the Republican hold on the 42nd District, had the second largest contribution total, at just over $13,000.

"My community (the Sikh community) is very much behind (my campaign), and they are very supportive of me," said Sidhu. "I don't see money as my weak point. I think the only thing is my name is not familiar with people."

Money for the candidates' primary campaigns goes toward costs including websites, office supplies, yard signs, fliers and postage. As of Thursday, only Van Werven and Knutzen had reported any campaign expenses - about $1,200 each.

The top two vote-getters in next month's primary advance to the general election in November.

One of Van Werven's top donors, Bellingham resident Dusty Gulleson, showed a lot of confidence in his preferred candidate. He gave Van Werven the maximum allowed for the year, $950 each for both the primary and general elections.

"But you know, money doesn't win elections. Hard work does," said Van Werven, who has been knocking on doors seeking votes in her district.

Kunkel, and maybe the other two, are counting on that to be true.

TOP DONORS

Top donors as of July 3 for the Aug. 5 primary in the race for the House 42nd District seat.

Luanne Van Werven ($36,538.56 total)

-- Ken Bell ($950)

-- Dusty Gulleson ($950)

-- Physician Insurance ($950)

-- Joe Wilson ($950)

Satpal Sidhu ($13,006.56)

-- Amarjit Brar ($950)

-- Bhupinder Sahola ($950)

-- Davinder Sahola ($950)

-- Mohinder Sangha ($950)

Bill Knutzen ($11,450)

-- BP North American Employee PAC ($950)

-- Christensen Net Works ($950)

-- Theresa Sygitowicz ($950)

Nick Kunkel ($796.64)

-- Alexa Dobson ($225)

-- Joshua Kunkel ($200)

-- Suzan Linden ($100)

Source: Public Disclosure Commission

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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