The Public Disclosure Commission is beginning the process of making inflationary adjustments to lobbying reporting requirements, similar to the recent move to adjust campaign finance limits and thresholds.
At the Commission’s May 25 meeting, PDC Executive Director Peter Frey Lavallee said staff also could offer proposals for “substantive changes” to lobbying reporting rules later this year. Staff are hoping to engage with the public and registered lobbyists to find ways to update and improve lobbying reporting.
Some of those changes will come as the result of House Bill 1317, passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee this year. The legislation made changes to reporting and disclosure requirements for organizations that engage in grassroots, or indirect, lobbying.
The Commission will begin soliciting input about lobbyist disclosure at its June 22 meeting in Spokane. Ideas also can be emailed anytime to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Commission declines petitions for declaratory order, rulemaking
The commission declined to consider a petition from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) asking the commission to suspend enforcement of RCW 42.17.405(12) and 42.17.442 against SEIU’s Political Action Committees (PACs).
Specifically, those portions of the law prohibit PACs from making contributions to state office candidate committees or other political committees unless the PAC itself has received small donations from at least 10 registered Washington voters.
Representatives of SEIU argued that the law was in conflict with freedom of speech rights under the First Amendment, citing a trial court ruling in the State of Washington v Grocery Manufacturer’s Association case. PDC General Counsel Sean Flynn said the petition put the Commission in an untenable position of determining the constitutionality of a law.
After a brief closed session, the commission voted unanimously to decline the petition, with Commission Chair Fred Jarrett noting that it would be more appropriate for the state Legislature or the courts to address SEIU’s concerns.
The commission also voted to decline a petition for rulemaking from Sedro-Woolley resident Joe Kunzler. He asked the commission to create a new rule that would specifically prohibit candidates for office from using comment periods in public meetings to promote their candidacy.
Flynn noted that RCW 42.17A.555 already prohibits elected officials from using or allowing others to use public resources to promote a candidacy, and that PDC staff regularly advise local governments of the law’s application to comment periods at public meetings. He added that he didn’t believe the law allowed the PDC to create a rule that would sanction a private citizen for speaking about their campaign during a public meeting.
Commissioner Allen Hayward said it would be the responsibility of the chair of the public meeting to put a stop to campaign speech during public comment, rather than the PDC’s role to make a rule.
Commission adopts formal interpretation on transfer of surplus campaign funds.
The Commission approved a written interpretation memorializing its decision at a May 11 special meeting regarding candidates transferring unspent contributions from a previous campaign to new campaign for a different office.
The interpretation pertains to RCW 42.17A.490, which states that a candidate may use contributions received by a past campaign for a new campaign for a different office with the written permission of the original contributor. The Commission’s statement advises campaigns to attribute those contributions to the contributor and to count them toward contribution limits for the new campaign.
Commission Chair Fred Jarrett noted, “I think it should be clear to everyone that the law has not changed.” Instead, the commission issued formal interpretation of a law long on the books.
PDC staff said they are handling two enforcement cases regarding the application of RCW 42.17A.490.
As of May 24, there were 51 active enforcement cases under review by PDC staff. From April 15 to May 15, 37 active cases were resolved. Three were resolved with a reminder, one resolved for lack of evidence and another five received formal warning letters.
In one instance, a fire protection district in the South Puget Sound area was issued a written warning after the PDC investigated a complaint that the district had used public facilities to support a ballot proposition, in violation of RCW 42.17A.555.
Another 15 cases were closed with Statements of Understanding, seven cases were closed administratively, and six closed after violations were found by the commission.
Next regular Commission meeting: June 22, 2023, in Spokane.