Commission members considered public comments as they worked to refine what the PDC will include in a request for new legislation in 2022.
The proposed legislation would adjust campaign finance reporting schedules to reflect the state’s vote-by-mail system in which ballots arrive as early as 18 days before an election (and even earlier for military and overseas voters). The proposed legislation would give voters who vote before election day more current information.
Cindy Madigan of the League of Women Voters told the Commission that the League supports the overall intent of the proposed legislation, including changes in the reporting calendar.
At the same time, she added, the Commission needs to balance the effects of added reporting requirements on smaller campaigns that can’t afford to hire professional help.
Commissioners heard from several professional campaign treasurers who were concerned about increasing the number of required expenditure reports leading up to an election. Currently, expenditure reports are due monthly during much of the year, but only twice – 21 days and seven days before an election – in the weeks immediately preceding the vote.
PDC staff proposed that these reports be filed weekly during the month preceding an election, giving the public a regular reporting schedule and a steady diet of campaign information leading up to the election.
Treasurers said they need more time to prepare additional detailed expenditure reports. They said that to complete those reports, they must gather details from campaigns and candidates about expenditures, in-kind contributions, debts and other financial information.
Increasing the number of reports without increasing the time between the end of a reporting period and a report’s due date will mean more late and inaccurate reports, treasurers contend.
Currently, the law requires the 21-day and seven-day reports to include information up to one day before the due date.
Commissioner Allen Hayward said “getting something filed quickly is not as important as getting it filed accurately.”
In the end, the Commission landed on a plan that would require weekly expenditure reporting in the month before the election, but would give campaigns until Wednesday to file reports for expenditure activity through the preceding Monday.
Commissioners reviewed several other sections of the proposed legislation during the meeting. They include:
A new section, not in the original draft of the proposed legislation, related to political advertising. Under this section, anyone who purchases political advertising from a commercial advertiser would need to disclose that their ad is political in nature – provided the commercial advertiser requests such disclosure.
A provision to raise the threshold from $1,000 to more than $2,000 for reporting large contributions close to the election. Starting the month before an election and up to the day before the election, those large contributions would need to be reported within two business days of receipt.
A requirement that the sponsor of a grassroots lobbying campaign –defined as a campaign to influence legislation – must register and report contributions and expenditures to the PDC if the campaign spends $500 or more on its lobbying efforts. The proposal also spells out how a grassroots campaign should identify itself in ads, and when and how it must list top donors.
Read an earlier draft of proposed legislation on the PDC website.
Commissioners learned that a public hearing on proposed amendments to PDC rules governing commercial advertisers is scheduled for the Dec. 2 Commission meeting.
The amendments concern the public inspection of commercial advertisers’ records on the sale of political advertising. The proposal addresses how advertisers must respond to requests from members of the public to see the records, the format for making information available and what must be disclosed.
The PDC developed the proposed rules in recognition of the evolving digital media market and the increased use of digital media by political campaigns.
The Commission issued fines in two cases involving candidates running for office in 2021. Both failed to file the required Personal Financial Affairs (F-1) disclosure statement and a candidate registration (C-1) with the PDC.
Such cases are usually handled by a single commissioner at a separate hearing, but the full Commission heard these because of the respondents’ history of violations and the size of the potential penalties.
William (Beau) Burkett, a candidate for mayor of Buckley, was formerly a member of the Buckley City Council but was seeking the office of mayor this year.
He failed to file either of the reports. Both were due within two weeks of becoming a candidate, or no later than June 4.
Burkett communicated with PDC staff and was able to file the overdue reports for this year the day before the Commission meeting.
He also owed $2,850 for prior penalties assessed for four previous violations, and told staff he planned to reach out to the collection agency contracted with the PDC to arrange payment of those fines.
The Commission voted to issue a fine of $1,500 for the 2021 late filings.
Ronnie Little, a longtime incumbent and 2021 candidate for re-election to King County Fire Protection District No. 40, failed to file the annual F-1 that’s due from sitting elected officials by April 15. Little also failed to register her 2021 campaign with the PDC; that report was due within two weeks of becoming a candidate or no later than June 4.
Neither report had been filed at the time of the Commission meeting. Little also had two previous violations for which she already owed $3,100 in penalties.
The Commission voted to issue a fine of $4,000 for the missing reports due in 2021.
PDC staff were also working on 48 active cases as of Oct. 2o. Between Sept. 14 and Oct. 20, they resolved 32 cases involving complaints from the public.
Staff also resolved another 144 complaints brought by PDC staff against candidates and elected and appointed officials for failure to file a Personal Financial Affairs Statement (F-1) on time or failure to register a campaign on time.
Read about enforcement cases on the PDC website.
Next regular Commission meeting: Dec. 2, 2021