The Spokane County Democratic Party is settling into a resigned recognition that they are not exempt from the law. The campaign finance laws apply to them as well as their political opponents. Soon, there will be a price to be paid for past legal violations as the Washington State Attorney General closes in on final settlement terms for the lawsuit the AG filed against the Spokane County Democrats last year. Their violations were significant, and the bill won’t be small. A local Firefighter PAC and staunch ally of the local party is also discovering the laws actually apply to them as well. These organizations were only able to pretend the law didn’t apply to them for so long. These are shocking times indeed.
The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The denial stage has long passed, and both organizations are entering into the depression and acceptance phase of this self-inflicted drama. They can’t avoid complying with the law and there will be a steep price to pay for violating it.
The steep descent of the Spokane County Democrats
When this author filed a campaign finance complaint (linked here) with the Public Disclosure Commission on March 16 last year, the Spokane County Democratic Party, led by recently elected Chair Andrew Biviano, denied all wrong doing. Biviano also claimed the complaint was frivolous and false (see Bivianno email to insiders dated March 24, 2017 linked here).
When the Washington State Attorney General filed a lawsuit (linked here) against the Spokane Democrats on May 12, 2017, as well as their paid executive director Jim Castrolang and their long departed treasurer Justin Galloway, it was more challenging to pretend nothing had happened. The Spokane County Democrats had failed to disclose over $82,000 worth of contributions and close to $120,000 of expenditures over many years, and when expenditures were disclosed, there was an effort to hide Castrolang’s unusual salary. Overlimit contributions were not disclosed, and other shady financial decisions were exposed.
This lawsuit was particularly awkward timing because Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson had just been at the Spokane County Democrats biggest fundraising dinner of the year as a keynote speaker, and Biviano had changed his Facebook profile picture to include a close shot of the two of them.
While Ferguson may have been helping the Spokane County Democrats raise funds to pay the legal expenses and inevitable fine his office would be imposing on the Spokane Democrats, the local party remained in denial and was far less practical. However, this was just the beginning of their woes. During the blizzard of introspection, it was uncovered that the party had been siphoning funds from the “Drumheller Account” which was a bequest given to the party when longtime party activist Betty Drumheller passed away. Originally, the approved plan was to donate these funds to scholarships for local children. Unfortunately, most of the money had been used to subsidize election night parties, and to cover up former paid executive director Castrolang’s questionable financial management. The Inlander wrote several excellent articles about this drama (linked here, and here).
Eventually, the local party figured out how to report their funds more accurately and come fairly close to complying with the law, but they could not avoid the inevitable reckoning with the Attorney General’s office. A price would have to be paid, and even the people in greatest denial could not continue to turn a blind eye to this fact.
Andrew Biviano resigned via Facebook on December 31 last year. Under the bylaws, the party had an election for new party chair. Experienced political operator and labor council stalwart Ed Wood was elected chair. This was not a celebration, but it was time to face the music. At the same January 20th meeting the party members voted, with some dissention, to use whatever funds necessary to pay the inevitably significant campaign finance fine which will soon be imposed. At least one PCO quit in disgust rightly recognizing that the Drumheller funds were likely to disappear once and for all, despite empty promises to the contrary by previous board members (including former chair Andrew Biviano). This wasn’t pretty, but it was practical. (see minutes from earlier Exec Board meetings where the Drumheller funds were promised to be reimbursed here and here)
In addition to last years campaign finance drama, the Spokane County Democratic Party was impacted by a scandal stemming from a rape and sexual assault investigation stemming from an incident at last year’s Democratic State Party Quarterly meeting in Walla Walla in April. This incident was reported in the Spokesman Review. The fallout from this, which included the dismissal of the Democrat State Committeeman from King County and the poor manner in which Democratic leadership handled the situation caused several new, younger PCOs to resign or become less involved. The departing energy combined with the move to newer, less expensive office space is generating a somber, downsizing environment.
The Spokane Firefighters forced to face the facts
At the same time the Spokane County Democratic Party was starting to face the reality for their past mismanagement, a major ally – the Spokane Firefighters were facing legal challenges of their own. A PDC complaint (linked here) filed October 15, 2016 by a local resident (not this author) had led to a PDC investigation of serious campaign finance violations by a political action committee (PAC) called Spokane for Honest Government.
Apparently, Spokane for Honest Government PAC was anything but honest and had failed to report more than $94,000 of spending on ads in support of council members Lori Kinnear and Karen Stratton during the 2015 election. The Public Disclosure Commission decided to impose the maximum fine of $10,000 (linked here), with $3,000 suspended for good behavior. The PAC decided to ignore the fine, spend all their money and then claim they couldn’t pay the fine. It sounds cool. Unfortunately, this has been a common practice recently by many Democratic organizations around the state (see article), and it is completely illegal. Peter Lavalle, the current Executive Director of the PDC wrote a very strongly worded letter (linked here) which reaffirmed this fact, and a local article was written discussing whether this PAC and the firefighters should just go away from local politics (see here).
In Spokane, the Democratic Party leadership is beginning to realize the laws actually apply to them and their allies after all. They can’t violate the laws with impunity forever. Eventually reality catches up. This truth doesn’t make it any easier or more enjoyable, but it is time to face the future regardless. Lessons have been learned over the past year, but it remains unclear if these hard knocks will have a lasting change on future behavior.
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…
Additional Background articles and documents:
Jim CastroLang sermon – “The Devil Made me do it” Feb 14, 2016