Theresa Purcell failed to win her race for the Washington State Legislature (19th District) in 2016. Her defeat by Representative Jim Walsh, the first Republican to be elected in this district since World War II stunned many political insiders. However, her election defeat won’t be the last word from this campaign. She is now bitterly contesting a lawsuit filed against her by Washington State’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who has recently made national news and a name for himself litigating against Donald Trump. The AG is suing Purcell because she failed to abide by various campaign finance laws during her failed campaign (see AG lawsuit linked here). However, Purcell is fighting back.
Theresa Purcell ran a campaign based on her “uncommon experience,” which appears to have not helped the election, but it may apply to her battle with Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson. Purcell also ran a consulting business specializing in political campaigns among other support activities. Her experience with political campaigns apparently didn’t include much knowledge of campaign finance reporting – a common mistake by political candidates. Unfortunately for Purcell, a complaint filed by this author with the Public Disclosure Commission last October (linked here) reported a significant number of campaign finance violations with her campaign. The Attorney General agreed and chose to file suit.
AG Bob Ferguson aggressively litigates campaign finance violations
Bob Ferguson campaigned for office, in part, promising to more rigorously enforce the state’s campaign finance laws. Not everyone thought this was a real promise, but he has been on a roll lately. Here are a sampling of recent campaign finance cases:
- Democrat Speaker of the House Frank Chopp (see complaint linked here)
- Democrat Senator Sam Hunt (22nd District) (see complaint linked here)
- Failed Democrat candidate for the Legislature (19th District) Theresa Purcell. (see complaint linked here)
- Failed Democrat candidate for the Thurston County Commission Jim Cooper (see complaint linked here).
- Failed Democrat candidate for the Thurston County Commission Kelsey Hulse (see complaint linked here).
- Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council Director Jay Manning (see complaint linked here and the rapid $4800 settlement linked here)
- Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman (see AG press release about lawsuit filed against Wyman here and the $10,000 settlement here).
- Grocery Manufacturers Association fined $18 million with $1.1 million attorney expenses charge (see AG press release here)
Purcell is understandably upset about the campaign finance laws and rules. She was annoyed with the AG as can be seen with her response to the original complaint (linked here) and her public comments since. This is interesting because Purcell’s nephew works for the Attorney General – Solicitor General Noah Purcell- and he has been prominent in the lawsuit filed against Donald Trump. Of course, there are hundreds of attorneys paid by the taxpayers working for the AG, but it doesn’t appear any of Purcell’s relatives are involved in the current litigation against her. The primary charges by the AG against Purcell are as follows:
- AG claims Purcell failed to timely and properly report debts, orders placed, and obligations as those debts and obligations were incurred (violation of RCW 42.17A.235 and .240)
- AG claims Purcell failed to properly and timely report the required employer and occupation for those contributors providing more than $100 in contributions to her campaign (violation of RCW 42.17A.235 and .240)
- AG further claims that Purcell’s actions were negligent and/or intentional
Unconstitutional laws and the Attorney General’s “unclean hands”
Campaign finance violations are not uncommon. AG lawsuits for campaign finance violations is becoming slightly more common, but the willingness to actually fight back, deny everything, and attack the Attorney General for having “unclean hands” and for attempting to enforce unconstitutional laws, now THAT is indeed uncommon (see Purcell response linked here). “Unclean Hands” is a legal term defined as follows:
“a legal doctrine which is a defense to a complaint, which states that a party who is asking for a judgment cannot have the help of the court if he/she has done anything unethical in relation to the subject of the lawsuit. Thus, if a defendant can show the plaintiff had “unclean hands,” the plaintiff’s complaint will be dismissed or the plaintiff will be denied judgment.Unclean hands is a common “affirmative defense” pleaded by defendants, which must be proved by the defendant.” (found in legal dictionary)
So, basically Purcell is arguing that the State Attorney General’s office has done something unethical and that the state’s campaign finance laws are unconstitutional. I applaud her for her effort and will cheer her in this quest. If she can succeed in this defense, Purcell will either overturn Washington State’s campaign finance laws because they are unconstitutional or prove that the Washington State Attorney General has committed some unethical action. Either way, if she achieves one of these goals, she will become a trailblazer for future politicians and candidates who face similar campaign finance violations.
Common Violations can lead to Uncommon Experiences
In hindsight, the original complaint filed against Purcell was submitted when this author was less knowledgeable about the campaign finance laws (and was helpfully informed by Senator Sam Hunt of this fact). After studying these laws more, it is obvious Purcell actually committed more violations that were missed during the first complaint. At some point, this should be communicated to the AG in the interest of providing a complete and accurate scope of the violations. However, none of these additional violations would change the Purcell defense strategy, which could have a significant impact on the state if she can prevail. Over the next few years, observers of all political stripes should track the progress and final result of this case. If Theresa Purcell is able to prevail over Attorney General Bob Ferguson, then this would be an uncommon experience indeed.
OUR CONSTITUTION BEGINS WITH THE PHRASE “WE THE PEOPLE.” IT WAS THE FOUNDER’S INTENT THAT GOVERNMENT BE CREATED BY THE PEOPLE, TO SERVE THE PEOPLE. IT WASN’T THEIR INTENTION FOR THE PEOPLE TO SERVE THE GOVERNMENT. IT WAS ALWAYS INTENDED THAT GOVERNMENT WHICH FAILED TO SERVE THE PEOPLE SHOULD BE “ALTERED OR ABOLISHED.” UNTIL WE RETURN TO THE FOUNDER’S INTENT, WE REMAIN WE THE GOVERNED…
Recent AG lawsuit and other pending complaints:
December 19, 2016 -AG lawsuit against Theresa Purcell (Thurston Superior Court #16-2-04959-34)
More Background articles on Attorney General lawsuits:
For More Background on Purcell’s campaign efforts: