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Two weeks ago, failed Democratic Party candidate Teresa Purcell stopped fighting the Washington State Attorney General’s office, and agreed to settle her 2016 campaign finance violation lawsuit for $22,395 (see settlement linked here). The AG allowed her to settle with a generous and friendly payment plan with the last payment to be made by Purcell to the State of Washington on December 1, 2019. It is unlikely Purcell or anyone else was expecting this outcome in the fall of 2016.
Political Failure and Legal Denial
Teresa Purcell was the Democratic Party’s chosen candidate for the Washington State legislature in the 19th Legislative District (Southwest Washington) for the 2016 election cycle. The seat was considered a long-term Democratic Party safe seat as the Democrats have been in political power in this district since World War II. Purcell’s loss that November to Republican candidate (and now Representative) Jim Walsh is considered a significant
turning point in the historic partisan control of that district because the 19th district voters also overwhelmingly voted for President Donald Trump.
Along the path to defeat, a variety of campaign finance violations were committed by Purcell and her campaign team. This author filed the first campaign finance complaint against Teresa Purcell (linked here) and ultimately, this complaint forced the Washington State Attorney General’s office to file a lawsuit (linked here).
Purcell immediately hired Perkins Coie, a Seattle law firm which made national news a few months later when it was revealed that they were directly involved in a money laundering, campaign finance scheme with the Hilary Clinton Presidential campaign and the infamous Russian dossier scandal. Hiring Perkins Coie as her law firm was probably logical to Purcell. Teresa Purcell’s nephew Noah Purcell was hired as the AG’s solicitor general a few years ago, and he was a former Perkins Coie alumni. Also, according to the Public Disclosure Commission, Perkins Coie attorneys had donated over $18k in campaign finance donations to Bob Ferguson over the past few election cycles (see report here).
Innocent no more – Purcell tried to hide the truth from voters
Purcell originally denied all wrong doing and in fact claimed that Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson had “unclean hands.” Her aggressive initial claims of innocence gradually faded away as this author began to become more familiar with the campaign finance laws and continued to update the AG with additional violations which were missed in the original complaint (see here, here, here, and here). While the Purcell campaign appeared particularly sloppy and incompetent in complying with the state’s campaign finance laws, the final complaint was probably the most damning. From a lack of public transparency standpoint, the complaint states as follows:
“These (missing) reports include large contributions from wealthy Seattle environmental extremist Peter Goldman, Representative Eric Pettigrew and various other out-of-district dark money donors that would have been very impactful for voters in the 19th Legislative District to have known at the time of the 2016 election. It appears that Purcell intentionally failed to disclose these contributions in an effort to disguise and obscure the true funding sources for her political campaign and to keep these sources secret from the public.” PDC Complaint #34941 – Teresa Purcell(5)
The AG recognized these violations and updated the original lawsuit by including some of these later complaints into the final lawsuit and settlement.
Changing tune and lessons learned
After this author had repeatedly criticized the AG’s office for an obvious double standard for ceasing to issue press releases about campaign finance lawsuit settlements with Democrats while launching numerous press releases about Republican (or Republican leaning) violators, the AG finally released a press release about the Purcell settlement (linked here).
No press releases (and only the occasional Tweet) had been issued for settlements with the Kittitas County Democrats, San Juan County Democrats, Senator Sam Hunt, Representative Jeff Morris, failed candidate Sharlaine LaClair, Eastside Democratic Dinner Committee, or the Washington North Idaho District Labor Council, for a few examples. This recent press release was a positive step in the right direction of equal treatment. Interestingly, Purcell was allowed to have a quote in the press release which was also mighty friendly and not typical for the AG.
However, the AG wasn’t the only one who changed their tune. Purcell also posted on Facebook a statement with serious contrition and acceptance of her inability to follow Washington State’s campaign finance laws. While this acceptance was couched in terms of making mistakes rather than a willful attempt to deceive the public, this is at least a good step on the road to recovery for her political career.
It isn’t clear whether Purcell plans to run for political office any time soon, but it seems likely she will make the attempt. She was heavily involved in a failed effort to wrest control of the Longview City Council away from the current moderate leadership, and she is active in this year’s 19th District Legislative campaigns. However, there are some lessons for others to glean from Purcell’s challenges and tribulations over the last 20 months or so. These are as follows:
- The Washington State’s campaign finance laws are not easy to comply with, even with the recent changes in state law which went into effect last week (she still violated the law under the “new” rules).
- It is probably better to hire law firms who donate large amounts of money to the AGs political campaign if you are going to fight the AG in court.
- While having a relative who is the solicitor general may not get you entirely out of legal trouble, it can help you get generous payment terms for your fine (the AG only started these settlement plans last year with the Pierce County Democrats settlement), and it might help with a friendlier press release when you settle.
- Finally, it is never a good idea to hide your donors from the public just because those donors are from Seattle and not a good fit for your district. Transparency is a better plan than deception.
Teresa Purcell may not be feeling good about the final litigation ending to her 2016 campaign, but she should be grateful she got off so light. Compare her settlement with the AG’s lawsuit against an unemployed cobble and retired judge in Grant County who are being charged $454,000 by the AG over an illegal anonymous $3,900 flyer from 2014 (linked here), or the AG’s persecution of Tim Eyman over two transactions from 2012 for $2.1 million and a permanent ban from the political process. It seems likely Purcell is looking forward to closing this final dramatic chapter in her political career, but it is important to remember originally she denied all wrong doing, and blamed this author for exposing the truth.
Uncommon Experience Indeed
Purcell launched her 2016 campaign with the tagline “uncommon experience.” The tagline was appropriate. She managed to lose this legislative district to a Republican for the first time since World War II. Purcell settled a historic campaign finance lawsuit (the largest in that district’s history). She was exposed for attempting to hide the identity of extremist donors from Seattle. She accused the AG of having Unclean Hands. The local paper had to report that her nephew, who worked at the AG’s office, had no influence on her final settlement. Finally, she was forced to reverse her initial claims of innocence and admit guilt and wrongdoing. If nothing else can be said about these experiences, they are uncommon 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…
Background articles on Purcell AG lawsuit:
December 19, 2016 -AG lawsuit against Theresa Purcell (Thurston Superior Court #16-2-04959-34)