Visit the website of the right wing Washington Policy Center, one of this region’s best known think tanks, and you can find any number of commentaries complaining that public expenditures are too high and regularly excoriating Washington State’s elected representatives for alleged fiscal mismanagement.
But as The Seattle Times’ Jim Brunner reports in a very welcome story about the recent departure of the Washington Policy Center’s CEO Michael Gallagher, it is apparent that WPC has been failing to live up to the principles that it preaches.
First, to set the table, here’s the lede:
The head of the Washington Policy Center, a prominent conservative think tank, has resigned in a move he said was voluntary but which followed complaints by some staff of a toxic workplace and poor financial stewardship.
Michael Gallagher, the president and CEO of the Seattle-based nonprofit since March 2022, announced his departure in a news release and statement this week.
Over the past year, Gallagher had been the subject of some staff complaints alleging verbal abuse and questioning his work ethic and expenses, according to internal documents obtained by The Seattle Times.
Later on in the story, Brunner cites an internal memo from Sydney Jansen, who had been with the organization for a long time, about Gallagher’s profligate spending, which was draining WPC resources with no benefit to the organization. Jansen was Washington Policy Center’s development officer.
“I am worried that under Mr. Gallagher’s leadership and management, the organization is headed down a destructive path,” wrote longtime employee Sydney Jansen, in a memo to the board last May outlining numerous grievances.
Jansen, who, as vice president for development, led fundraising efforts, wrote that Gallagher was frequently absent and unavailable, and belittled employees with “nasty, disrespectful verbal abuse.” Jansen also wrote that Gallagher had a habit of asking female staff to fetch him drinks at events.
She also alleged Gallagher had made “inappropriate” use of WPC resources, pointing to a Washington, D.C., event in which Gallagher set up an expensive dinner, ostensibly to prospect for donors, which turned out to be “a buddy catchup” with a couple of his pals.
“We spent $3,000 on dinner for two prospects who turns out were Mike’s friends from DC,” she wrote.
Yikes! The Washington Policy Center is a nonprofit, and no nonprofit should be spending three thousand bucks on dinner for a trio of three friends. $3,000 is sufficient to provide food for a whole room full of supporters at an event.
Jansen has since left the Washington Policy Center — and she’s not the only one:
By the third quarter of last year, the organization’s top three fundraising employees had left. Gallagher in an internal budget memo acknowledged 2023 had been “a very tough year” and predicted the nonprofit would need to tap a reserve fund for up to $500,000 in 2024 in order to keep up with expenses.
That “very tough year” included legal defeats in addition to a fiscal imbalance. For instance, the Washington Policy Center went all-in on a legal challenge to Washington’s popular capital gains tax on the wealthy, which failed in the Washington State Supreme Court and more recently in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Since revenue isn’t sufficient to keep up with expenses, why not make cuts to avoid draining the reserves? Why isn’t WPC living within its means?
That is, after all, what they say that government should do:
“The answer is for state governments to become responsible and live within their financial means.”
“I would argue standing up for fiscal discipline and having profound respect for money that is entrusted to you is one of the most important things you can do as an elected official. This means three things; spending wisely, living within the city’s means, and not budgeting by raising taxes.”
– WPC’s Chris Corry, August 2nd, 2021 (prior to his joining WPC; he became an employee of the organization in April of 2023)
“Especially in a time of record state revenues and spending, the answer to unfunded mandates is not tell local officials to raise taxes to pay for them, but instead to prioritize state spending within existing revenue while complying with the law.”
“Reading reports on Washington state’s energy policy over the last two weeks, there is a consistent theme that emerges: policymakers think there is a lot of free money laying around.”
“When government spends taxpayer dollars wastefully, like spending on expensive and inefficient solar panels and the like, we are left with fewer dollars to spend on projects that can have a big impact. Some may wince at the price tag of this effort, but not every government project is a waste. The profligate spending of the last decade at the state and federal level, however, have reduced our willingness to spend even on worthy projects.”
From our staff’s vantage point, this story is just the latest example of do what we say, not what we do from the local and national right wing.
If you run an organization that employs people who are paid every week to put out blog posts and tweets and guest essays criticizing the fiscal practices of public agencies and demanding the immediate implementation of better ones, shouldn’t you be leading by example, and ensuring that your own organization is consistently on a good fiscal footing, and is a safe place for people to work?
WPC has lots of very rich donors, so I imagine that they’ll be able to recover financially from this rough patch sooner or later. But as far as we’re concerned, their calls for fiscal responsibility will ring even more hollow than they did before.