Public Disclosure Commission Chair Nancy Isserlis opened the September regular meeting of the PDC by announcing a second engagement session scheduled for Oct. 17.
In the first engagement session, on Aug. 30, more than 20 people signed up to comment on two issues: The state law requiring campaigns to collect certifications that contributions were not financed or influenced by foreign nationals, and the requirement for campaigns to report the employer and employer’s location for contributors who give more than $250.
At the Oct. 17 virtual engagement session, members of the public will be invited to give feedback on two additional issues: Upcoming rulemaking on grassroots lobbying based on recent changes to state law, and guidance regarding RCW 42.17A.555, which prohibits the use of public office or agency facilities in campaigns.
The session offers participants an opportunity to discuss these requirements with the commissioners and other interested parties. The conversation will help inform internal policy discussions and assist the agency in providing technical assistance on possible future external proposals.
To participate in the engagement session, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Grassroots lobbying rulemaking, inflationary adjustments heading for December public hearings.
PDC staff presented draft rules for grassroots lobbying activities and inflationary adjustments for lobbying reporting thresholds at the Sept. 28 meeting. Both will be the topics of public hearings in December, with adoption expected before the 2024 legislative session.
The PDC was directed to draft rules on grassroots lobbying in House Bill 1317, which passed during the 2023 legislative session.
PDC General Counsel Sean Flynn presented the draft grassroots lobbying rules to the commission, saying staff spent time working with stakeholder groups to get feedback and perspective while drafting the proposed rules.
The term grassroots lobbying can sometimes lead to confusion. Unlike traditional lobbying, in which an individual or a group attempts to influence legislators directly on issues, grassroots lobbying is indirect, focusing instead on encouraging members of the public to support or oppose an issue, indirectly influencing action in the legislature or other government body.
House Bill 1317, now state law, has already resulted in some changes in grassroots lobbying registration and sponsor identification on advertisements. The draft rules would include additional requirements and clarifications in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC).
The proposed rules include definitions of what could be considered to be grassroots lobbying, more information on how sponsors should report their activities, and more.
The commission also plans to hold a public hearing in December on inflationary adjustments to lobbying reporting thresholds. In 2023, the commission approved inflationary adjustments to reporting thresholds for candidates and committees, and is now continuing that work with lobbyingist reporting.
Could public disclosure law soon have its own title in Washington state law?
Flynn also briefed the commission on the possibility of an upcoming bill that would seek to recodify public disclosure law within the Revised Code of Washington.
Currently, public disclosure law in Washington is a part of chapter 42.17a, a part of Title 42.
Moving public disclosure law into its own title could have long-term benefits, he said, such as better organization and a simplified process of updating the RCW. However it could also have drawbacks, such as confusion over new citations for existing laws. Staff plans to continue to monitor the potential bill, but the Commission itself has not taken a formal position.
New reporting system deployed for last-minute contributions
The PDC is continuing to improve its online campaign and lobbyist reporting and in September launched a new reporting system for last-minute contributions.
Rather than using a separate application, candidates and committees will now access the LMC reporting system by clicking the dollar-sign symbol next to the name of their campaign in the PDC’s “Committees I File For” dashboard on the agency’s online reporting system. Lobbyist filers will also find links to file LMCs alongside their regular reports.
The improved filing system offers an upgraded user experience and simplifies reporting by consolidating PDC filings. It also adds new features, such as the ability to amend reports and to view and access past LMCs.
Commission imposes $30,000 fine on repeat violator of disclosure laws
The Commission found that Avrum (Alex) Tsimerman, violated public disclosure law by failing to file three candidate expenditure reports, or C-4 reports, during the 2022 election cycle, when he was a candidate for Washington State Senate in the 46th Legislative District. Tsimerman did not advance past the primary in that race.
Tsimerman is currently a candidate for Bellevue City Council on the 2023 general election ballot.
The Commission has previously found several violations against Tsimerman, resulting in combined fines of $6,250, none of which have been paid.
In 2021, the Commission found Tsimerman had failed to file his Personal Financial Affairs Statement or F-1 report, within two weeks of becoming a candidate or no later than June 4, 2021. In 2022, the Commission found Tsimerman failed to file both his F-1 and his campaign registration, or C-1 form, within two weeks of becoming a candidate in 2022. Finally, earlier this year, the Commission again found that Tsimerman had not filed his required F-1 or C-1 forms for 2023.
The Commission found on Sept. 28 that Tsimerman failed to file an expenditure report accounting for his filing fee for the 2022 race, as well as two additional C-4 forms due 21 days and 7 days prior to an election regardless of campaign activity. The Commission imposed $10,000 fines for each of the three violations found, with $2,500 suspended on each if Tsimerman pays all outstanding fines and files all missing reports
Tsimerman did not participate in the Sept. 28 hearing.
Volume of complaints into agency continues to be high
From Aug. 21 to Sept. 20, 2023, the PDC received 68 new complaints of potential violations. As of Sept. 20, the agency had 111 open cases.
During that same time period, PDC staff held three initial hearings and resolved 18 cases, excluding group enforcement cases. Twelve cases were resolved with warning letter, and two others closed with the respondent admitting violations and paying small monetary penalties. . Staff also resolved a case that had remaining allegations after a Commission dismissal of part of the case in July.
Three cases were dismissed with no evidence of violation, including two with unique circumstances. In the first, the PDC received a complaint of a candidate misusing the term “re-elect” in campaign advertising. The candidate in question had previously been elected to the Sammamish City Council, was currently appointed to a position on that council, and was seeking to be elected to continue in the appointed position. State law says that false claims of incumbency are not a violation when made by the candidate themselves because a person cannot defame themselves, so the allegation was dismissed.
In the second, a complaint was made alleging failure to register as a political committee. In this case, three candidates shared literature and a website, and accounted for all of their expenses in separate, but complete filings. PDC staff determined the candidates didn’t need to file as a committee because they were accounting for their expenses adequately as candidates.
Watch the Sept. 28 Commission meeting on TVW.