In a joint press release, King County Democrats Chair Bailey Stober and King County Republican Party Chair Lori Sotelo called for reform of Washington’s public disclosure laws. They say the current laws are outdated and no longer serve the purpose they were created for.
Many of our state’s campaign finance laws came about as a result of Initiative 276 which was approved by 72 percent of voters back in 1972. The initiative created limits on campaign expenditures and established the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) as a way to further bring transparency to political campaign financing. The law requires disclosure of information such as the personal finances of those holding or running for office, details of campaign contributions, names and compensation of lobbyists, and information regarding the sponsorship of political advertisements.
The Public Disclosure Commission serves as the agency to help uphold these laws. Annually, they receive approximately 6,500 personal financial statements and over 90,000 reports from lobbyists, candidates and political committees. They also monitor compliance and conduct investigations.
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Though originally created by citizens concerned with campaign transparency, Stober and Sotelo say these laws are now outdated and are being exploited by a small number of individuals.
“Public disclosure law was enacted through voter approval of Initiative 276 over four decades ago by Washington State residents who believed they had the right to know who was funding campaigns. We both couldn’t agree more. What we don’t agree with is the individuals and organizations using hard working public servants and our state agencies to level political shots at one another.”
In March of this year, the News Tribune wrote an article about conservative activist Glen Morgan, who filed more than 40 complaints to the PDC from October 2016 to March, mostly against Democrats. As of May 23, the Seattle Times reports Morgan is up to 75 filed complaints and may have hundreds more to go. At the same time, the News Tribune article also details complaints from the Democratic Party against Republican politicians and describes these mounting complaints as, “an ongoing wave of frivolous tit-for-tat campaign accusations between Republicans and Democrats.”
Stober and Sotelo say the hundreds of petty complaints are not only a waste time; they are also a waste of money.
“The hundreds of public disclosure complaints have cost taxpayers a magnitude of money that could be spent elsewhere, such as updating services and technology used in compliance with disclosure laws. Additionally, the frivolous complaints are costing both political parties time, money and resources that could be better spent on engaging, educating and advocating for our voters across King County. We are calling on lawmakers and state officials to come to the table to figure out solutions for the good of Washington State.”
No details were released on what this reform might look like, but with the legislative session just around the corner, we will keep an eye on this story as it develops.