Wash. Referendum To Be Decided by Voters Today

November 6, 2007

Voters are heading to the polls today in Washington, where they will decide on one of this year’s loudest election campaigns, and also one of the most expensive ballot measure races in state history.

New campaign finance reports show that trial lawyers and insurance companies battling over Referendum 67 have spent nearly $14.5 million, with just days remaining before the election.

If approved by voters, Referendum 67 would allow consumers to collect triple damages if their insurer unreasonably denies a claim or violates unfair practice rules. It would not apply to health coverage.

Supporters say R-67 gives consumers a powerful tool to punish bad actors in the insurance industry. Opponents say it’s an unnecessary magnet for unfounded lawsuits that will drive up insurance rates.

Campaign spending by both sides has already made R-67 the second-most-expensive initiative or referendum effort in state history, trailing the nearly $16 million spent by doctors and lawyers on a 2005 medical malpractice initiative.

Referendum 67 can claim a different record: the opposition campaign’s spending, presently at more than $11 million, is the most ever spent by opponents of a ballot measure.

Insurers are the primary donors to the “no” campaign, while trial lawyers are the heaviest donors in support of the referendum.

Both sides have spent heavily on TV ads to make their case to voters, and the messages often have taken a bitter tone, with supporters and opponents accusing each other of misleading campaigns.

Some recent polls have shown R-67 with an edge in public support.

“I think people relate to our message. And we’re hearing from a lot of people,” Approve 67 spokeswoman Sue Evans said.

“The fact is, everybody’s mother, brother or cousin has an insurance story,” she added.

Reject 67 spokeswoman Dana Childers said in a statement last week that, she questioned Democratic Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler’s support of R-67.

“If the insurance commissioner needs more authority to regulate and police insurance companies, he should go to the Legislature and ask for it,” Childers said. “Why in the world would he cede his authority to trial lawyers?”

Polls are open until 8 p.m. tonight, and it is the last day for residents to mail or turn in their absentee ballots.

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