June 24, 2022

The Commission voted to raise the threshold for expedited reporting of large, last-minute contributions to campaigns from $1,000 to $1,500. The change takes effect June 30, 2022, in time for the primary election’s special reporting period that begins July 26.

Under the rule, contributions that reach the threshold of $1,500 and occur within seven days of a primary election and 21 days of a general election must be separately reported.

Contributors who reach the threshold must file a last-minute contribution (LMC) report within 24 hours of giving. Recipients must file the separate report within 48 hours of receipt.

The threshold had not been changed since 2002. In 2019, the Legislature authorized the Commission to revise certain monetary values and reporting thresholds to adjust for inflation.

The Commission made the LMC change under an expedited rule-making process, after receiving public input on the subject during discussions of legislation proposed during the 2022 legislative session. Those discussions pointed out that contribution limits had been adjusted upward since 2002, but the LMC threshold had not. The result was that ordinary donations were triggering the LMC requirement and creating extra reporting.

Analysis ranks Washington first for campaign finance laws

Washington state was ranked tops in the nation for the strength of its campaign finance reporting laws, Executive Director Peter Frey Lavallee announced.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit Coalition for Integrity analysis focused on each state’s regulation of state executive and legislative races. It looked at the independence and powers of state agencies such as the PDC that oversee campaign finance disclosure as well as other aspects of each state’s laws.

No state achieved a perfect score from the Coalition, but Washington scored 83.99, ahead of California at 80.95. A total of 17 states scored below 60.

Washington voters enacted Initiative 276 in 1972, ushering in an era of increased transparency that has been enhanced over the years by new laws enacted by the Legislature.

Read more about the state-by-state rankings on the Coalition website.

Enforcement hearings

The Commission issued fines after conducting three enforcement hearings, the latest in a series of actions involving elected officials who repeatedly have failed to file Personal Financial Affairs (F-1) statements.

Ronnie Little, former commissioner for King County Fire Protection District No. 40 in Fairwood, was fined $10,000 – the maximum fine the Commission can levy – for failing to file a report for 2021.

She was first elected in 2009, and her most recent term ended Dec. 31, 2021.

Little currently owes fines totaling $6,800 from prior violations assessed in prior cases. She is also missing reports for 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2020.

The Commission agreed to suspend half of the $10,000 fine if all previous fines are paid and all missing reports are filed within 30 days.

Jonathon Rodeback, Toutle Lake School Board member, was fined $3,000 for failing to file a report for 2021.

He had two prior violations, including for failing to file a 2019 report. During an appeal of the associated $250 penalty, Rodeback told PDC staff he refuses to file F-1s.

At this meeting, the Commission voted to levy the maximum $3,000 fine for a third violation for the missing 2021 report, but agreed to suspend $500 of that if all missing reports were filed and previous fines totaling $2,500 are paid.

Warren Small, former Royal School Board member, was fined $2,000 for failure to file a 2021 report.

His term ended Dec. 31, 2021. He had previous violations. He paid a $1,500 penalty for filing a late 2017 report, but has not paid another $1,500 fine for filing a late 2020 report.

The hearings for repeat violations prompted discussion among Commission members. They talked about the current practice of sending unpaid fines to a collection agency and considered when the PDC should instead take repeat violators to court.

“I’m tired of all the people who say ‘It doesn’t apply to me’ or ‘I’m above the law.’ I don’t think we can let that slide,” Commission Chair Fred Jarrett said.

Rulemaking agenda

The Commission set an agenda for rulemaking for the upcoming six months.

Three items make up the agenda:

  • Updating campaign reporting for digital political advertising in WAC 390-16. Earlier this year the Commission updated requirements for commercial advertisers to maintain records of the digital political advertising they sell. The next step will focus on details of campaign reporting of expenditures for political ads, with the Commission considering improvements to disclosure requirements.
  • Updating registration and reporting requirements for continuing political committees in WAC 390-16. Under current law, a continuing committee can register and identify multiple campaigns it supports or opposes. It can also amend its registration or delete campaigns. This makes it difficult to track the history of a continuing PAC and to determine spending on any specific campaign. The Commission will look at ways to identify which campaigns a continuing PAC is active in, and develop ways to match funding and expenditures with each specific campaign.
  • Adjustments to contribution limits, reporting thresholds and code values for reporting in RCW 42.17A, so they incorporate economic changes reflected in the inflationary index.

Enforcement stats

As of June 15, 2022, PDC staff had 36 active cases based on complaints from the public, and 20 cases based on complaints filed by PDC staff. Staff members indicated they expect the number of active cases to increase as elections draw closer.

Between May 19 and June 16, PDC staff closed nine cases based on complaints from the public and 34 cases based on complaints filed by PDC staff.

Next regular commission meeting: July 28, 2022