National political network is shaping the political makeup of Washington

Whether we like it or not, special interest groups significantly influence politics.

We all know this happens on a national level, especially in political “hot beds” like Ohio, Michigan, New Hampshire, Colorado and Florida.

But the truth is, special interest groups dramatically influence politics in Washington state as well.

In order to increase their influence, many special interest groups — including trial lawyers, teacher unions, environmental lobbies and “social justice” committees — have united to more effectively advance their collective agenda.

One of the largest united groups is the Progressive Majority Network, a powerful national organization and political action committee that opened offices in Washington state in 2004.

With its mission to promote economic justice, civil rights, universal healthcare, education investments, environmental restoration and reproductive freedom, Progressive Majority has perfected a business model of recruiting, training and electing “a new breed of candidates” who will support its social justice and equality agenda at the local, state and national level.

Progressive Majority has experienced great success turning political contribution dollars into legislative action.

Since its establishment as a PAC, Progressive Majority has championed 493 candidates nationally.

Of those 493 candidates, 100 — or approximately 20 percent — have been elected in Washington state in public positions such as the Washington State Legislature, city councils, and school boards.

And with 13 states in the network, it just shows how progressive voters are in Washington state.

The Business Institute of Washington, a nonprofit dedicated toward educating voters on the relationship between business and public policy in Washington state has been tracking Progressive Majority’s growth since 2006.

While Progressive Majority promotes itself with a broad, universal mission that is attractive to a large number of voters in Washington state, the Business Institute’s research concludes that its financial muscle is largely dominated by one group — labor unions.

Progressive Majority is a powerful player on the political scene, but it is not just about fundraising for political action; it’s about shaping public perception through effective communication and then helping to elect individuals to public office who will be the group’s voice and vote for its agenda.

Since the Washington state Senate flipped from Republican to Democrat in 2004, Progressive Majority has been successful in steering the majority of Democrats to vote for its agenda.

Because of the Progressive Majority’s influence, Washington has had the second-most progressive bills passed out of all 50 states since 2006.

Other special interest groups, such as personal injury trial lawyers, the Washington Education Association and the Sierra Club often look to Progressive Majority and follow its recommendations.

It is a year-round effort that has paid off and undoubtedly helped them influence and shape legislation in Washington state and across the nation.

But has the influence of Progressive Majority helped or hurt Washington state?

With a projected $3 billion budget deficit for 2011-2013, an 8.9 percent unemployment rate and a sharp decrease in private sector job creation, Washington is in deep economic trouble.

Considering the private sector is the basis of our state’s prosperity and global competitiveness, strengthening the private sector and supporting small businesses should be the focus in Olympia.

With its abundant endorsements, Progressive Majority has established a strong presence in Olympia and has shifted priorities away from strengthening Washington’s economy and instead toward other issues such as economic justice, civil rights, universal health care, environmental restoration and reproductive freedom.

Revitalizing our private sector should be the Washington State Legislature’s first priority. Only when people are back at work and communities again begin to prosper can we begin focusing on expanding social programs and continuing sustainable progressive reform.

When ballots are mailed in mid-October and voters begin to vote, it is important for all of us to do the research and understand where candidates are getting their money and which special interest groups are funding their campaigns.

In this election we must elect people who will not be distracted by their allegiance to a special interest group, but who will instead focus on the most important issue of our time — strengthening private businesses in Washington state to help create jobs and grow our struggling economy. Individual prosperity is not something that we should shy away from. When individuals are prosperous, so is our state.

Erin McCallum is the president of two nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations: the Enterprise Washington and the Business Institute of Washington.

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