How to tell if your Senator wrote his own Wikipedia entry
by John Stang
Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver discusses bills scheduled for committee review with staffer Alison Mendiola.
State Sen. Don Benton's Wikipedia entry reads a bit like a campaign brochure.
Technically, the details are all true, but for some reason the prose outlining Benton's accomplishments is far more purple than a normal Wikipedia article. Also, some of the more controversial parts of the longtime Vancouver Republican senator's career have been glossed over.
For example, a few months ago, two Clark County commissioners hired Benton as the county's director of environmental services despite his generally perceived lack of qualification, the job not being publicly advertised and the county government's hiring procedures not being followed. All this has been widely reported.
None of those problems are mentioned in his Wikipedia entry. "His appointment was controversial as the newly elected majority on the council exercised their authority to appoint department heads," it notes benignly. "Benton has surprised many critics by promoting employees from within, recommending purchases of eagle habitat to the board and organizing the county's first intern program with WSU-Vancouver."
In addition to omission, the Senator's Wikipedia entry also strays from neutrality, claiming that "Benton is a 'matter of fact' conservative who fights aggressively to represent his constituents."
And that, "After Washington Initiative 1185 (a measure that required the legislature to submit proposed tax increases to public referendum) was declared unconstitutional by the liberal state supreme court in 2012, Benton stated his support for an amendment to the state constitution that would incorporate the essence of the nullified statute. Benton has said he is in alignment with many members of the Tea Party movement and with any American that realizes government has grown too big."
And also, "Senator Benton has continuously introduced bills to reduce government regulation during his tenure as a part-time citizen legislator."
During a brief stint as chairman of the state Republican party, to which he was elected in 2000, Benton had other roadbumps in his career. He left $1.2 million in donations unspent during the 2000 campaigns — the same cycle in which Democrat Maria Cantwell narrowly unseated Republican incumbent U.S. Sen.Slade Gorton. Party leaders also criticized him for putting $365,000 in escrow to move the party headquarters from Tukwila to an Olympia building, without telling party leaders. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the information on the unspent $1.2 million is also missing from the article.
"His tenure was marked by historical fundraising numbers and with some party members criticizing the implementation of his bold election promises and spending priorities," the entry reads. "After Benton used specific funds he raised to purchase a new headquarters in Olympia without consulting some party leadership, two members of the party's executive board requested his resignation, which he refused to give. The following year Benton lost reelection by three votes after surviving the first ballot in a three-way race…"
Benton did not respond to attempts to contact him for comment about the entry.
Ultimately, Benton's Wikipedia bio falls into a fuzzy area between encyclopedic fact and fan letter. Whether it crosses some sort of the line depends on how you read it, and on your beliefs in how Wikipedia articles should be worded. But its omissions and departures from neutrality sure don't improve Wikipedia's brand value.