$656,158.84 was how much money PSE’s astroturf Orwellian “Alliance to Protect Thurston Power” spent in 2012 at sabotaging democracy in Thurston County. That figure comes from six power companies including PSE and one business lobby group. Not one living individual made a single donation to PSE’s disinformation campaign though a small unit of campaign mercenaries ran the campaign and paid themselves handsomely.
That figure doesn’t count the billboards suddenly all over Thurston County greenwashing PSE. It doesn’t count the fact that PSE had a booth at every fair and festival in Thurston County giving away free compact florescent lightbulbs and low flow shower heads. It doesn’t count the sweepstakes put up at the grocery store to win a free energy saving refrigerator for your garage. It didn’t count the informative mailers that went out with your energy bills saying how green they were. All that propaganda painting PSE as a green and caring corporation perhaps elevates the amount they spent to millions.
With all that money spent they got 59.34% or 70,084 people to vote NO. That was a cost of $9.36 per vote for them. It was the most ever spent on a county wide campaign in Thurston by easily five times. Remember if you include the amount PSE didn’t have to report to the PDC in their enthusiastic, certainly not campaign related, self promotion then the amount spent per person might be double that or triple or more.
The “Thurston Public Power Initiative”, by contrast, raised $31,125.55 from 158 individual donations. Living breathing humans gave in small donations a respectable amount for a county wide campaign. They recieved in total 40.66% or 48,030 votes that said YES we want public power! This grassroots campaign spent just $0.64 per YES vote.
A victory of 59% by PSE sounds like a lot but when it’s understood that PSE spent at least 21 times the money as the grassroots campaign for public power, and likely much more, it calls into question the legitimacy of the election. It calls into question the very legitimacy of our democracy.
Remember there wasn’t a single donation from a living breathing human in support of PSE’s astroturf campaign organization. They got their money from corporations and ever since the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision, corporations have been able to spend unlimited amounts on elections. All their spokespeople were paid, all their endorsements were paid indirectly because of decades of giving to politician’s election campaigns. The media as well had conflicts of interests because of the money in advertisements they risked implicitly if they didn’t back PSE.
Had corporations been unable to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign it would have been a very different race. The campaigns would have been more evenly matched on the playing field. The huge numbers of real volunteers that Thurston Public Power Initiative had should have made it the strongest county wide campaign in Thurston. Facing a campaign by PSE that had to rely on real human donations capped at a reasonable level and whatever folks they could round up to volunteer for their corporate welfare, it would have been much different vote turnouts. Definitely downwards from their 59%, perhaps meaning that they would lose.
We can speculate all day, but barring a time machine coupled with election reform, there is no way of knowing what the outcome would have been for sure.
What we can do is try again. Starting from the 40% base that voted yes last time we can do better this time. We will still be up against the mountain of corporate money meant to destroy our democracy but that money has diminishing rates of returns. We will need to raise more money than last time but that seems very doable. It’ll still be a longshot because the election will be fixed, but knowing that clearly from the start might make a difference.
At the end of the day, we hate PSE. We think they’re total crooks. We enter into this fight hoping to land a few blows for the people. They can’t be the champion forever.