March 27, 2024

The Public Disclosure Commission met Thursday, March 14 for a strategic planning retreat, which happens about once every two years, to discuss the agency’s goals and priorities going forward. 

The PDC’s strategic plan includes four broad categories encompassing the PDC’s goals and projects, including: Empower the people to “follow the money” in politics, help the regulated community achieve and maintain compliance, continue to build a better, more agile and more responsive organization and attract and retain a talented and dedicated workforce. 

The PDC’s vision statement, included in the plan, is to “lead the nation in fostering full disclosure of money in politics.” 

Vice Chair Allen Hayward suggested that the vision statement should be edited to include the word “timely.” Hayward would later lead a discussion about expanding proactive compliance efforts, particularly around the timely filing of political campaign expenditure and contribution reports.  

Inside the strategic plan 

The Commission establishes five projects at a time to support the strategic plan’s goals. Currently, those include 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. Agency staff gave updates on all of these projects during the meeting.  

Commissioner and past-chair Fred Jarrett opened the meeting by speaking about how pleased he was with the improvements to the agency’s strategic planning during his time on the board.  

Jarrett’s five-year term was up in December, but state law allows PDC commissioners to stay on the board while the governor’s office finds replacements. At the end of the meeting, PDC Executive Director Peter Frey Lavallee presented Jarett with a letter from the Gov. Jay Inslee thanking him for his years of service on the Commission. 

Moving forward – compliance strategies and priorities 

The Commission spent much of the second half of its meeting discussing strategies for improving compliance in reporting of contributions and expenditures (C-3 and C-4 reports).  

While some of these reports are mandatory for full filers – such as 21- and 7-day pre-general election reports – most are only due if the campaign has met certain thresholds for reporting. The complicated nature of these rules often make it difficult for staff to determine if a campaign didn’t file a report because they had no activity, or failed to file when they should have. Currently the enforcement process for those reports is complaint-based. In the past six months, the agency has been inundated with hundreds of complaints from a few members of the public on that issue in particular.  

Staff conduct general enforcement processes for mandatory reports, such as campaign registration (C-1) and personal financial disclosure reports (F-1). The Commission asked staff to develop a system of notifications to filers regarding mandatory campaign reporting in anticipation of future enforcement for failure to comply.   

The Commission and staff also discussed penalties for non-compliance with disclosure laws. Commissioners expressed concern that campaigns were not adequately penalized for late or missing filings. They were also concerned that warnings issued by staff do little to deter future non-compliance, and discussed whether more cases should be brought to the Commission in hearings so that it could enter a finding of a violation. Staff and the Commission also discussed the agency’s penalty schedule, and whether fines as low as $150 were an effective motivation for compliance.  

Staff plan to draft a plan to move forward on the new compliance projects to present to the Commission at its next public meeting, scheduled for Thursday, March 28.