April 01, 2024

The Public Disclosure Commission’s regular meeting on Thursday, March 28 was the last for Commissioner Fred Jarrett, whose five-year term was up in December. State law allows commissioners to stay on the Commission until replacements are appointed.  

Commission members and staff have thanked and lauded Jarrett for his guidance and leadership, and work on strategic planning over the years 

“We do know where you are,” said Chair Nancy Isserlis. “When we have difficult or challenging issues, we may call on you for ex-officio advice.” 

Filling Jarrett’s chair starting April 1 is Jim Oswald, who spent much of his career as an attorney in private practice in Washington, and who is now retired and living in Union. 

Staff have eye on rulemaking for deepfake ads, sponsor identification on yard signs 

Staff at the PDC have a full docket of rulemaking over the next several months.  

In its 2024 session, the Legislature passed HB 2032, which made changes to sponsor identification requirements on yard signs.  

Previously, political yard signs under 4 feet by 8 feet were exempt from requirements to list the sponsor identification, or who paid for the signs, on the signs themselves. That meant most yard signs did not include such ID. The new law, which will go into effect in June, removes that exemption. As of that date, yard signs will be required to have sponsor ID.  

Staff briefed the Commission on the topic at the March 28 meeting, recommending an emergency rulemaking process to draft new rules in the Washington Administrative Code section 390 to implement the new law. PDC staff reported they have already gotten questions from print shops on the new requirements.  

Staff plan to bring the draft rules to the full Commission at its next regular meeting on April 24.  

PDC staff are also continuing to work on rulemaking related to 2023 legislation on deepfakes – Senate Bill 5152. The law creates a private cause of action against the sponsor of political advertising using synthetic media, also known as a deepfake, unless a disclaimer is included.   

The law requires the PDC to draft rules in furtherance of the law, but the agency will not have authority to enforce them. Instead, the law will be administered through civil suits. Rulemaking started on Jan. 18.  

This rulemaking effort will likely also be a topic of discussion at the April Commission meeting, and the subject of a public hearing at the Commission’s May meeting.  

Commission continues discussions from strategic planning retreat 

The Commission met on March 14 for a strategic planning retreat, and discussed a variety of existing projects, including work to improve lobbying disclosure, to use process improvement to reform enforcement procedures, to increase Commission outreach, to enhance disclosure of digital political advertising and to modernize PDC reporting systems.  

In addition, the Commission and staff considered new projects, which they continued to discuss at the March 28 regular meeting.  

Staff drafted a project charter for one of those new projects, which would create a system to identify filers who owe three mandatory reports – 21- and 7-day pre-general election expenditure (C-4) reports and post-general C-4s – and notify filers both in advance of the deadline and after the deadline if those reports are missed.  

Staff plan to have the notification system implemented in time for the 2024 general election. They would then assess the program’s success in spring 2025, and evaluate next steps, which could include creating a staff-driven enforcement process for these reports, similar to the general enforcement process for campaign registrations, or C-1 reports.  

The Commission and staff also discussed warning letters, one of the way staff resolves cases that appear to involve minor violations, but are most often remediated by filers through the compliance process.  

Commission Vice-Chair Allen Hayward expressed a concern that the warning letters were not taken seriously by campaigns, and are not an effective deterrent for non-compliance. However Commissioner J. Leach noted that eschewing warnings in favor of statements of understanding (which require the filer to agree that they were out of compliance) or hearings before the Commission would create a huge increase in workload for both staff and the Commission.  

Jarrett suggested that staff could do an analysis of warning letters and come back to the Commission with a report with information about how and when warning letters are issued.   

Enforcement update 

As of March 21, the PDC’s enforcement division had 239 open cases. Between February 15 and March 20, 17 cases were closed, including two dismissed with no evidence of a violation, one reminder, 11 written warnings and two violations found by the Commission.  

In one of those cases, PDC staff received a complaint that Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal violated RCW 42.17A.560, which requires a freeze on campaign fundraising for all state officials and members of the state Legislature during a legislative session, when the 2024 Friends of Chris Reykdal Campaign sent an email that included a “donate button.” The button had been deactivated during the freeze, and the campaign affirmed that it did not collect funds during the freeze. Reykdal was issued a written warning for the incident.  

In another case, PDC staff received a complaint that the Mayor of Woodinville failed to disclose a gift valued at $150 for VIP access at a Chateau Ste. Michelle Wine Estates event on his annual personal financial affairs statement, or F-1 report. The report was corrected, and staff issued a warning letter. 

Looking forward 

The next regular meeting of the Public Disclosure Commission will be at 1 p.m. April 24 at the Hilton Vancouver Washington hotel at 301 W. 6th Street in Vancouver