United States

Billionaire-backed Defend Washington targets millionaire behind three initiatives

(The Center Square) – Opponents of three initiatives on the ballot this November are targeting the man behind the unprecedented movement that got six initiatives to the Washington State Legislature.

Hedge fund manager Brian Heywood, the man behind voter advocacy group Let’s Go Washington, used a lot of his own money and influence to gather enough voter signatures to get the six initiatives before the Legislature. Three of them were adopted by lawmakers earlier this year and went into effect last month.

The Legislature passed initiatives banning local income taxes, establishing a parents’ bill of rights for those with kids in the K-12 school system, and giving police more leeway in terms of vehicle pursuits.

In less than four months, voters will have their say on the remaining three measures: Initiative 2117, which would repeal the state’s Climate Commitment Act; Initiative 2109, which would repeal the state’s capital gains tax; and Initiative 2124, which would allow Washingtonians to opt out of the state’s mandatory long-term care benefit program.

There are individual campaigns against each measure: No on 2117, No on 2109, and No on 2124.

Another organization fighting against the passage of the ballot initiatives is Defend Washington. It has launched an advertising campaign targeting Heywood’s effort as deceptive. The campaign says the measures would cut billions from schools, transportation, and environmental causes.

In a May interview with The Center Square, Defend Washington spokesperson Sandeep Kaushik said if voters pass the three initiatives in November, the impacts would be devastating.

“Whether it’s funding to protect our air and water, or funding for schools and early learning, or long-term care for workers and seniors, that’s the sort of thing people don’t want to see happen in Washington state,” Kaushik said.

Let’s Go Washington Communications Director Hallie Balch told The Center Square that the opposition’s strategy of attacking Heywood is not a surprise.

“Campaigning 101 says if you can’t make an enemy of the policies, then make an enemy of the person running them,” Balch said. “This is a little laughable, honestly, because it’s just predictable from the opponents.”

Balch said Heywood did not get involved in the initiative effort for personal gain.

“The last person who stands to gain from any of this is Brian, because he’s invested so much of his own personal resources and time and energy,” she continued. “There’s no world in which Brian Heywood receives back the investment that he’s made.”

Balch said it’s also funny that Defend Washington ads target Heywood’s wealth.

“Stop looking at the person who is running the initiatives to help people and cut costs and improve their lives, and start looking at the billionaires who do stand to gain from these initiatives not being enacted,” she admonished.

According to Public Disclosure filings, Defend Washington was launched by Civic Ventures, which was founded by billionaire tech mogul and venture capitalist Nick Hanauer.

In an interview with The Guardian several years ago, Hanauer was not modest about his ambitions when he supported an idea or ballot measure.

With less than four months until the election, Balch said Let’s Go Washington is feeling confident, but not overly so.

“The opposition is going to need to raise double or triple the amount that we would need to raise because their campaign is the losing campaign,” she said. “They have to convince people to want to spend more money, while we want to save people money.”

Defend Washington and other such organizations might very well have a fourth initiative to contend with on the fall ballot. Supporters of Initiative 2066 to ensure energy choice, including natural gas, have submitted nearly 550,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office, likely more than enough to qualify the measure for the ballot.

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