Senate candidates talk fundraising, negative ads

State Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, and his political challenger, state Rep. Tim Probst, D-Vancouver, continue to express concerns about the amount of mudslinging aimed at them this campaign season.

The two legislators are building up their war chests, too, raising and spending more on their campaigns than any other legislative candidates from Clark County. Benton has raised more than $263,000, while Probst has raised more than $142,000, according to recent reports filed with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.

And more money means more political advertising.

“I’m becoming concerned that (Benton) plans to spend that money on intentionally not telling the truth to voters,” Probst said in an interview on Wednesday. “The voters deserve to be dealt with honestly.”

Rather than seek re-election to the House, Probst decided to take a run at Benton’s seat.

When asked about recent fundraising numbers, Benton only had this to say: “It would appear that Probst’s outrageous lies about my record and his negative campaigning have hurt his local fundraising ability.”

The two also have made an issue out of the clean campaign pledge, which allows candidates to promise they won’t lie to voters while trying to earn their support in November. The pledge allows for attacks on an opponent, as long as those attacks are truthful.

Probst signed it at the start of his campaign and challenged Benton to do the same. Benton said he didn’t need to sign the unenforceable pledge, because he said he already was running an honest campaign. But he ultimately ended up signing the pledge.

Probst has submitted four of his campaign mailers to The Columbian for fact checking, and his criticisms of Benton outlined in those pieces are based on information provided by fact checking organizations, news articles and editorials, and Senate voting records.

If Benton wants to argue that the points in Probst’s mailers aren’t relevant, that’s one thing, Probst said in a recent editorial board meeting with The Columbian. “But he shouldn’t be saying I’m not telling the truth, because I’m telling the exact truth,” Probst said.

Benton declined to attend the editorial board meeting.

Contributions breakdown for Benton, Probst

More than $100,000 in Benton’s campaign came from 112 individuals or special interest groups making the maximum donation allowed — $900. Seventy of those $900 contributions were designated for the primary election, while 42 so far have been designated for the general election, according to data on the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission’s website.

Those $900 general election contributions come from a variety of sources, including financial institutions, alcoholic beverage organizations, the National Rifle Association, railroad groups and a few trade groups, such as the Washington Restaurant Association. Benton is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Financial Institutions, House and Insurance Committee. He also serves on the Government Operations, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee.

Another $36,400 of Benton’s campaign contributions came from the Republican Party — either at the state, county or 17th District level.

The 17th Legislative District’s Republican committee gave Benton $16,500 for the primary election and $11,400 for the general election, according to PDC data. The Clark County Republican Party pitched in $3,500 for the primary, and the Senate Republican Campaign Committee donated $5,000 for the primary.

Probst has received 46 contributions of $900 each during his campaign against Benton (totaling more than $41,000). Sixteen of those donations were designated for the general election, and they include contributions from several employees’ unions, some education groups, Vancouver health care organization Columbia United Providers.

Another $900 donation came from the Roosevelt Fund, a political group associated with the Senate Democratic Caucus that funded an independent mailer attacking Benton.

The Senate Democratic Campaign Committee has donated $2,500 to Probst’s primary race and $35,000 to his general election campaign, according to PDC data. The 17th District’s Democratic committee gave $4,000 in contributions to Probst for the primary election.

Probst is vice chair of the House’s Education Appropriations and Oversight Committee. He also serves on the Education, Higher Education and Rules committees.

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