Right-to-die backers ahead

OLYMPIA — Advocates of a proposed assisted suicide initiative have raised nearly $900,000 in their efforts to get the measure on the ballot this fall.

Supporters of Initiative 1000 also had spent two-thirds of those dollars by the end of March working to collect signatures to get on the ballot and line up donors for the multimillion-­dollar election battle sure to ensue if they succeed.

“It isn’t cheap,” Blair Butterworth, one of the group’s consultants, said Monday. “There’s no lack of confidence that we will have the resources in terms of people and finances to get on the ballot.

“We are also spending money at the beginning to build a sustainable list of donors who will be with us the duration of the campaign,” he said.

The Yes on 1000 committee collected $235,056 last month to give it $884,041 in total contributions, according to the latest finance reports filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission.

It spent $618,743 through March 31 and had $265,297 on hand at the start of April, the report shows.

The Coalition Against Assisted Suicide, the most visible opposition group to the measure at this juncture, had raised $33,100 and spent $13,000 as of March 31, according to its filing.

“Obviously it’s enormous,” Chris Carlson, a member of the group’s steering committee, said of the disparity. “It does lend itself to the David-and-Goliath analogy.

“We’ve had some successes already that are important,” he said. “We’ve been able to educate people that there are two sides to the story.”

The proposed initiative would allow mentally competent, terminally ill adults in Washington to end their own lives by legally obtaining and taking life-ending medication.

It is modeled after Oregon’s right-to-die law that’s been affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. If passed, it would make Washington the second state in the nation to offer such an option.

Former Gov. Booth Gardner is the force behind the measure, whose backers have until July 3 to get signatures of 224,800 registered voters to earn a spot on the ballot.

Gardner has given $120,000 to the campaign, the most of any individual. The Oregon Death With Dignity Act Political Action Committee is the largest donor at $200,000. The state chapter of Compassion and Choices has contributed $65,000, while the national chapter gave $50,000.

Opponents have received $5,000 each from Dale Peterson of Wenatchee and Dr. Shane Macaulay of Bellevue.

But the source of the biggest sums against the initiative is yet to surface, said Barbara Coombs Lee, president of the Compassion and Choices national network based in Oregon.

“The money will come late, it will come in very large contributions and it will come from the political arms of the Catholic Church,” she said. “It will go to buy lots and lots of media time to try and scare people.”

Information provided by her group Monday showed the Catholic Church and affiliated groups contributed slightly less than $1 million to defeat the Oregon measure in 1994 — the year it initially passed. The church put up $1.68 million in a failed bid to repeal it in 1997.

Carlson said the coalition may work on joint public education campaigns with the church, though he expects much of their leaders’ advocation will occur in the pews of the parishes. He said evangelical churches will actively oppose the measure, too.

If Initiative 1000 qualifies for the ballot, it will be the second time Washington voters consider letting adults choose to take their own lives.

In 1991, voters defeated Initiative 119 by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent.

It was pretty expensive for the time. The Public Disclosure Commission reported the two sides spent a combined $2.25 million in the campaign with $1.73 million of that from supporters.

That’s not much by today’s standards.

The two sides dueling in last year’s insurance reform measure, Referendum 67, spent a total of $15.4 million. That’s the second highest total in state history. The record of $15.9 million was set in 2005 with Initiative 330 dealing with health care.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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