April 07, 2023

The Commission heard a presentation from the Washington state People Powered Elections Coalition. Speakers were Cinthia Illan-Vazquez, executive director of The Washington Bus, a statewide movement focused on increasing political access and participation, and Cindy Black, executive director of Fix Democracy First, which focuses on reforms to strengthen democracy.

They spoke about a legislative proposal to expand democracy vouchers for contributions to state legislative candidates statewide. This year, a statewide bill, HB1755, was introduced in the Legislature.

“We believe the Public Disclosure Commission is the logical partner to oversee and implement a program like this,” Black said.

Democracy vouchers are a method of public funding of political campaigns. In Seattle, the program was approved by voters in 2015 and used for the first time in 2017 municipal elections. It provides city residents with four $25 vouchers that they can contribute to the candidate or candidates of their choice.

“Washington is a leader in campaign disclosure and transparency, voting access and infrastructure, but there is still more work to be done,” Illan-Vazquez said. “Too few Washingtonians provide the bulk of our campaign contributions. Few rural, people of color and low-income people have the resources to run for office.”

Rulemaking requests

The Commission voted to deny a petition to eliminate a rule that campaigns report the address of a donor’s employer. The petition stated that the requirement is ambiguous about what employer address should be used in the case of employers with multiple locations. It also said the address does not provide useful information to voters and that obtaining the address often presented significant difficulty for campaigns.

The petition overlapped with an issue that was already considered by the Commission during rulemaking completed in February. The Commission adopted a clarification, taking effect April 1, requiring that only the city and state of a donor’s employer be reported. That is consistent with how the PDC has applied the rule in recent years. Also on April 1, the contribution threshold for reporting employer information increases from $100 to $250.

Commissioner Allen Hayward noted that questions remain about other aspects of the rule, such as which employer to disclose if a person has more than one. He also said the Commission might need to further discuss whether the rule is sufficient to address potential fraud in which an employer funnels their own money through contributions made by their employees.

Audit plan for 2023

PDC staff this year will examine the operations of four legislative caucus committees and their affiliated committees:

  • The House Democratic Campaign Committee and the Harry Truman Fund
  • The House Republican Organization Committee and the Reagan Fund
  • The Senate Democratic Committee and the Kennedy Fund
  • The Senate Republic Committee and the Leadership Council.

Audits will look at reports of contributions and expenditures in 2022 to determine filers’ compliance with statutes and PDC rules, evaluate record-keeping and suggest possible improvements. They will also examine the relationship between consultants, independent contractors and employees of the caucus political committees who also provided services to the affiliated committees during the 2022 election.

Reviving a long dormant audit program was one of the Commission’s strategic goals in 2020-2022, during which staff completed audits of 2018 state Senate campaigns, 2019 local office candidates and 2020 state House campaigns.

PDC audits, authorized by RCW 42.17A.105 and RCW 42.17A.110, are designed to provide the public with information about how well campaigns comply with state laws and PDC regulations and strengthen public confidence in campaign reporting transparency.

Enforcement stats

Between Feb. 16 and March 15, PDC staff closed 12 cases based on complaints from the public and 15 cases initiated by PDC staff.

Among the closed cases:

  • Staff issued a written warning to a political committee that failed to register and report information on time. Staff determined that the committee had solicited contributions for the potential recall of school board members and worked with the committee to ensure that it registered and reported those contributions. Multiple complaints had also alleged that the committee failed to include sponsor identification on political advertising. But an investigation by PDC staff determined that the committee had not sponsored a postcard in question and that the sponsor of a separate flyer was unknown.
  • A complaint alleged misuse of public facilities by a school district for not charging fair market value for sign printing by the high school print shop for a 2021 school board candidate. The complaint was resolved through statements of understanding and payment of fines by two school district employees. One employee paid a $300 fine and the other a $150 fine.

An additional 60 cases, including 34 initiated by PDC staff and 26 based on complaints from the public, remained in active status as of March 15.

Next Commission meeting: April 27, 2023