Last week, a Wikipedia user deleted the section out of U.S. House candidate Lisa Brown's biography claiming that, "in 1993, Brown voted in favor of one of the largest tax increases in the state's history."
That user? Brown's husband, local attorney Brian McClatchey.
"Deleted language mischaracterizes an allegation as fact," McClatchey wrote on the site's internal log to explain the changes. "No source cited for the first deleted sentence."
The Wikipedia article was referencing a Spokesman-Review story from 1996, where Brown's opponent claimed the tax increase was the highest in state history. Back then, according to the Spokesman article, Brown argued that her vote had been "mischaracterized" and was necessary to balance the budget.
"Removing a false statement because it is false is not doing something to suit a point of view," McClatchey argued on Twitter. "Either the citation is accurate, or it is not. This one was not."
Don Gutmann, researcher for the Washington Department of Revenue, says that tax increases in 1935 — when the state's tax structure was created — and the tax hikes in 1982 and 1983 were likely larger.
But yes, 1993 was a big one. The Kitsap Sun referred to the 1993 tax increase as the largest in a decade. And the hikes sparked a backlash; voters that year passed an initiative that required a two-thirds supermajority from the Legislature to raise taxes.
Brown has been a passionate advocate for a Washington income tax, but noted to the Inlander, "I also sponsored tax decreases."
Either way, the tussle over the Wikipedia entry highlights just how vulnerable the popular site is to politically motivated edits. In the last two weeks, a newly created user with the screen name "alexpgeorge" has added several opposition-research-flavored sections dealing with Brown's statements on tax reform, Cuban health care and Nicaraguan politics.
Some edits are sillier. Back in 2010, an anonymous Spokane Wikipedia user briefly added the phrase "who is gnar" — snowboarder or skateboarder slang for "awesome" — to the sentence about Lisa Brown's son. ♦