Website of the Washington Policy Center
Screenshot of the Washington Policy Center's website, as viewed by NPI staff on February 10th, 2024

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.”

WPC’s Roger Stark, May 6th, 2020

“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.”

WPC’s Jason Merci­er, April 10th, 2018

“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.”

WPC’s Todd Myers, June 24th, 2022

“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.”

Unat­trib­uted WPC staff mem­ber, August 23rd, 2010

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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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