Vancouver’s Fred Swink knows it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.
The 2012 elections were two days away, and Swink had done all he could to stump for Mitt Romney in Clark County. Then he got an email from Republican Rob McKenna’s gubernatorial campaign. The outcome of McKenna’s race was going to be close, and the campaign was calling for “ballot chasers” to go out into the community and encourage last-minute voters to mail in their ballots.
Swink wanted to help McKenna’s campaign however he could. The email’s promise of a $50 gas card each day and $10-an-hour pay also sweetened the deal.
Swink put in two 12-hour days of ballot chasing with about 20 other Clark County residents. But nearly six months later, he said he still hasn’t been paid. Now, the Washington State Republican Party is stepping in to pay a debt Swink says the McKenna campaign owes him.
“We will be cutting checks this week,” Washington State GOP spokesman Keith Schipper said Tuesday. “It was one of those things that just kind of slipped through the cracks.”
‘Passing the buck’
Swink knew something was wrong when weeks passed after the election, and he still hadn’t received a check in the mail. He contacted the McKenna campaign, who told him to talk to the Clark County Republican Party. Then the Clark County GOP told Swink that McKenna’s campaign was responsible for the payment. Swink even reached out to the state party, and tried to contact McKenna himself.
After failing to get a straight answer, Swink considered legal action. He soon learned he couldn’t take the McKenna campaign to small claims court because both parties aren’t from Clark County, and he decided filing a lawsuit would cost more money than he was owed.
But Swink stuck with the fight, pestering anyone who might able to help. It wasn’t that he was hard up for cash, Swink said, it was a matter of principle and respect.
“I’m a Republican, and I tried not to make an issue of this because I don’t want to embarrass the party,” Swink said. But, he thought, if Republicans want to be seen as “job creators, part of that is paying our employees and being fair. … This doesn’t live up to the standards of the GOP.”
He added: “The lady I rode with had children, and this was money she was planning on using to buy Christmas presents,” Swink said. Ten bucks an hour “can make a big difference to some people.”
Swink estimated the roughly 20 ballot chasers from Clark County could be owed more than $6,000 collectively, assuming they all worked 12 hour days for two days, and got their gas cards for both days.
“Everybody involved was passing the buck,” Swink said. “I think six months is long enough to wait.”
Stephanie McClintock, who was chairwoman of the Clark County Republicans in November, said the promise to pay ballot chasers was made by a member of the McKenna campaign staff, and the Clark County GOP hadn’t voted to spend money on ballot chasing.
“He was offering someone else’s money,” McClintock said. “He wasn’t authorized to spend our money.”
The Clark County GOP’s central committee didn’t have any money left to pay the ballot chasers. They already spent all they had on the race.
McClintock said that after the Clark County GOP realized the ballot chasers weren’t getting paid, their organization planned to compensate them with money from a future fundraiser. Then, leadership within the Clark County GOP changed hands in December, and McClintock was not re-elected as chair.
Clark County GOP’s new chairwoman, Lynda Wilson, said she has worked with the Washington State Republican Party to reimburse the ballot chasers.
“We have been dealing with this since we were put into office” late last year, Wilson said. “I’ve been working with the Washington State Republican Party on their behalf.”
Schipper said the state GOP helped organize the ballot chasing program across the state and that it was working under the assumption that the Clark County GOP was footing the bill. “So we didn’t budget out Clark County when we were developing the program,” he said.
Swink said he feels the McKenna campaign should have reimbursed him, because the offer to pay ballot chasers came to him through an email from McKenna’s campaign.
The email, which Swink forwarded to The Columbian, states: “We need team of 2 to go out and ballot chase! The teams will go out from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday. You will be compensated $10 an hour as well as a $50 gas card each day.”
“It was very clear it was coming from the McKenna campaign. Period,” Swink said.
The McKenna campaign had no shortage of cash after the election, but it closed its campaign account in March.
The campaign raised more than $13 million for the race for governor. After the election, it paid $43,000 to campaign manager Randy Pepple and Pepple’s wife and donated $50,000 to the state GOP. The remaining $81,435 was moved into a surplus fund.
No love lost
Despite his frustrating experience, Swink says his support for McKenna hasn’t waned, and he’d probably vote for him again, depending on McKenna’s running mates.
“I’m definitely still a Republican,” Swink said. “I don’t believe there was any malice.”