Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman on Friday defended her closed-door meetings with lobbying groups earlier this year after a report was published about her attendance, and she dismissed criticism from her Democratic opponent that she was susceptible to special interest influence on Washington state’s ballot initiative process.
Wyman’s participation in a May meeting in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Republican Secretaries of State Committee, was described Friday in a story by The New York Times that also mentioned a handful of other Republican secretary of states.
Public records obtained by the Times show a May 3 meeting between Wyman and the secretaries of state of Colorado and Ohio with the National Restaurant Association, facilitated by the secretaries of state group. Wyman also was part of a meeting with the National Rifle Association, though documents show they were interested in ballot measures in California, Maine and Nevada.
The restaurant group wanted to discuss proposed minimum wage initiatives in the three states. Wyman said she met with the groups only to explain the initiative process in Washington state. Wyman said she did not attend a hunting lodge event mentioned in the article.
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I was bringing the perspective of how the initiative and referendum process works in Washington. I would meet with any group that asked me to do this.
Kim Wyman, Washington’s secretary of state
“I was invited to join some other Republican secretaries of state to meet with these groups,” she said. “I was bringing the perspective of how the initiative and referendum process works in Washington. I would meet with any group that asked me to do this.”
Wyman said she has met with more liberal groups in the past for the same reason.
This is the appearance of undue influence on those measures and she needs to answer some really hard questions. There’s an appearance of impropriety here.
Tina Podlodowski, Wyman’s Democratic opponent
But her Democratic opponent, Tina Podlodowski, argued that it was improper for Wyman meet with the groups, especially considering that some of the briefing papers cited in the article noted donations made from the groups to the Republican Secretaries of State Committee and other Republican groups. Podlodowski made the claims at a press conference Friday, joined by union groups that support the minimum wage raise initiative that voters will decide on next week.
“This is the appearance of undue influence on those measures and she needs to answer some really hard questions,” Podlodowski said. “There’s an appearance of impropriety here. That’s all I can say.”
The Times story said that secretaries of state write the ballot title and summaries for initiatives, but in Washington state that is not the case. The attorney general’s office – currently headed by Democrat Bob Ferguson – is tasked with writing them.
In addition, Wyman noted that the minimum wage initiative was among several that easily qualified for the November ballot in the state this year.
“The allegations about undue influence and these backdoor deals, what was the undue influence they had?” Wyman asked. “I didn’t ask for anything, and didn’t receive anything in return.”
Wyman, who is seeking her second term in a tough campaign against Podlodowski, is currently the lone statewide elected Republican in Washington state and the entire West Coast.
Podlodowski, a former Microsoft manager who served on the Seattle City Council, has raised more than $888,000 in her bid to be the first Democrat elected to the post in more than 50 years. Wyman has raised about $762,000.
The Republican Secretaries of State Committee has spent about $67,000 in the independent expenditures – which can’t be coordinated with individual campaigns – for radio and internet ads in support of Wyman’s candidacy.
Just $3,600 in independent expenditures have been spent on behalf of Podlodowski’s campaign by groups including Planned Parenthood, and the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State has donated about $2,000 directly to her campaign.
According to the Public Disclosure Commission site, of the 2,374 donations Podlodowski has received, about 240 have come from out of state, though her largest donations came from the state party and Washington-based donors. Of the 3,907 donations Wyman has received so far, 30 have been from out of state, with the largest donations from her state party.