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The King County Democratic Party has endured two brutal years of chaos, financial collapse, leadership turnover, and internal drama. The recent settlement of $36,797 with the Washington State Attorney General’s office over historic and systematic campaign finance violations has not improved the situation (see final judgment linked here). The terms of this legal settlement might be considered generous considering the wide range of ongoing campaign finance violations, but the imposed payment plan and suspended penalties will hover like a dark cloud over future leaders of the King County Democrats for at least another four years. Worse than the financial penalty, the crisis of confidence in local party leadership is the biggest challenge local Democratic Party leaders must overcome.
When this author first filed a complaint against the King County Democratic Central Committee in March of 2017, the KCDCC leadership informed their members it was “frivolous” and “without merit.” Democratic PCOs were told this case would be settled with only minor penalties and this author was just “partisan.” This message didn’t change even after the Washington State Attorney General was forced to file a lawsuit against them, based on this author’s complaints on May 11, 2017 (see lawsuit linked here). Even while the King County Democratic Central Committee was in active litigation, they continued to break Washington State’s campaign finance laws (RCW 42.17A). This author helpfully provided additional evidence to the AG (like this, and this), some of which were incorporated into the final amended lawsuit (linked here).
Widespread habitual failure to follow campaign finance laws
The King County Democrats habitually failed to comply with Washington State’s campaign finance laws for many years. Even before this author filed the first notice to the AG’s office, the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) had already taken the unusual step of initiating enforcement actions against the King County Democrats in 2016 (see here), after the KCDCC Treasurer quit, drove to Olympia, and left a package at the front door of the PDC which triggered a bomb scare. Fortunately, the package only contained a computer, cash box, and financial records of the King County Democrats, however this became a bomb of a different sort.
The historic failure to comply with PDC rules became a campaign platform for new party leadership. Bailey Stober successfully campaigned for King County Democratic Party Chair, in part, on a promise to fix this lack of compliance. Once Bailey was elected, he was fortunate to have the help of treasurer Nancy Podschwit, who I believe to be one of the most capable Democratic Party volunteer treasurers in the state. However, this was not enough to completely comply, nor was it enough to save the party from losing a major campaign finance lawsuit.
According to the AG, the following violations were the primary justifications for this lawsuit:
- Failure to timely report $74,261 of contributions during 2016, including 67% of which should have been reported before the November 8th Concealing the source of contributions from the public so that the public could see who is funding a political committee is a major violation of the state’s campaign finance laws.
- Failure to timely report many expenditures (including contributions to candidates) during the 2016 election cycle. These reports were cumulatively over 879 days late. Concealing to whom a political committee was supporting during the election cycle and therefore denying the public (and the media) the right to know is also a serious violation of the state’s campaign finance laws.
- Failure to deposit contributions in a timely manner. At least $14,977 were hidden from the public by a failure to deposit funds within the statutory five days of receipt. Many of these contributions were hidden from the public for months. Hiding information about funding sources during the election cycle is a serious violation of the state’s campaign finance laws
- Failure to report sufficient detail on a wide variety of expenditures during 2016 and 2017.
While there were other violations of a less significant nature committed by the King County Democrats during this timeframe, the above listed violations were the most significant. These violations, which the KCDCC often called “trivial,” “technical,” or “minor” to their PCOs and donors resulted in the following settlement terms and became the final stipulated judgment. There is nothing trivial or technical about this (linked here):
- Fined $24,055, with $12,027.50 suspended for four years, unless they break the law again. This fine is payable to the State of Washington.
- Fined $10,000 for attorney fees (paid to the AG)
- Fined $2,502 for investigative costs (mostly to the PDC/AG)
- Fined $240 for court costs
- Payment plan of $1k August 1, 2018, and $4k every six months thereafter until the final bill is paid (over 4 years)
his settlement plan follows recent payment plan programs which the AG began with the Pierce County Democrats (story here), and has also extended to the Thurston County Democrats (story here), the Kittitas County Democrats (story here), failed Democratic Legislative candidate Theresa Purcell (story here), among others. Like most recent settlements with Democratic Party organizations and candidates, the AG did not issue a press release. For a complete listing of Campaign finance settlements finalized by the AG’s office go here.
More than just campaign finance violations – leadership drama, financial collapse, rape investigation, and more
The most notable drama for the King County Democrats was the crazy scorched earth attack and forced removal of elected chair Bailey Stober a few months ago. Stober was elected as chair in early 2017. He is a young, charismatic, and capable Democratic Party activist, and the party was fortunate to have him in a leadership position. Stober became part of the campaign finance complaint circus when he filed one against 2nd LD Republican legislator (and now Caucus leader) JT Wilcox in 2017 (linked here). While that complaint went nowhere, this author filed a few complaints against Stober (linked here, and here). These complaints spurred the Attorney General to also file a lawsuit against Stober (see here), and while this is still in process, according to the AG’s office, it has resulted in at least one $5,000 fine imposed on Stober for a failure to produce documents (linked here). Stober is no stranger to campaign finance litigation and was fined $4,000 by the PDC in 2015 (see source documents here, here, here, and here), with $2,000 suspended for good behavior, but the balance of the $2k fine was reinstated last year and referred to collections in May of this year.
Despite this personal chaos and the litigation against the KCDCC, Stober always had a positive attitude attempting to lead a very contentious and squabbling collection of Democratic Party activists and PCOs. Even under the best of times, this is not an easy job, and in King County a little drama can make this nearly an impossible task.
First, Stober had to address a rape investigation, stemming from the April 2017 Washington State Democratic Party quarterly meeting in Walla Walla. This resulted in the forced resignation of KCDCC State Committeeman Chad Lupkes. Secondly, Stober fired the one paid KCD Party staffer, after she was caught on video in a Bellingham hotel parking lot vandalizing a car because it had an ICE hat in the window (see video here). Additionally, fundraising for the King County Democrats couldn’t keep up with expenditures, which is a common problem when Democrats run government, but there is general recognition that this is bad policy for political parties.
All of this drama was endurable, but Stober committed the cardinal sin of confronting Washington State Democratic Party Chairwoman (and failed candidate for WA Secretary of State in 2016) Tina Podlodowski (see PDC complaint linked here). Podlodowski had an ax to grind against Stober because she viewed him, legitimately, as a potential political threat. There has been widespread dissatisfaction with Podlodowski among the rank and file Democrat PCOs and activists around the state, and Podlodowski was determined to stifle any rebellion before it could grow. Stober was a political threat and had to be removed.
Scorched Earth removal of chair, abandoning office space to Republicans, and dissolving local district committees
The Podlodowski vs. Stober political civil war started earlier this year and Stober never had a chance. Nobody is perfect, but the successful scorched earth effort to remove Stober from the chairmanship of the King County Democrats was epic and multi-faceted. Republican infighting is milquetoast in comparison to how this crew plays the game. First, an “investigation” was initiated, which found ample complaints against Stober, not surprisingly, from the very staffer he fired. Many complaints ranged from the juvenile (he sprayed silly string on me during a road trip) to mundane and typical (he wastes too much money on rent, internet service, etc), to vague sexual harassment allegations. Stober was no stranger to sexual harassment as he received a $125,000 settlement against the State of Washington in 2014 for being the recipient of sexual harassment while he worked at the Washington State Office of Minority & Women’s Business Enterprises (OMWBE) in Olympia (settlement linked here). Stober probably made a few political enemies in the Inslee administration because of this case.
As reported very thoroughly on the “C is for Crank” blogsite, written by Erica C. Barnett the investigation into Stober included multiple lengthy meetings, lots of division, rumors, and one epic 13 hour (!) faux “trial.” Of course, removing Stober from the chairmanship wasn’t enough. Allies of Podlodowski including elected officials like King County Executive Dow Constantine (see PDC complaint linked here) and 37th Legislative District State Senator Saldana (see letter linked here, and also PDC complaint linked here) withheld their customary donations to the King County Democrats, which contributed to the unfolding financial disaster. Additionally, Stober worked for the King County Assessor’s office. Stober worked on the campaign to elect King County Assessor John Wilson (see PDC complaint linked here) in 2014. He was hired for a flexible $98,000 per year communications job. This job came to an end after Stober resigned as chair. The Assessor’s office spent $25,360 on another “internal” investigation (your tax dollars hard at work) and agreed to a severance payment of $37,700 to Stober.
After Stober was gone, the new political leadership abandoned their rented office space. In a bizarre turn of events, the space was rented to the Dino Rossi campaign, a Republican running for Congress in the 8th District.
In addition to the financial and leadership woes of the King County Democrats, there was ample drama found in other local Democratic Party organizations. For example, multiple political committees decided to illegally dissolve once they were exposed by this author for violating the state’s campaign finance laws as well. This included the 11th Leg District Dems (South Seattle/Renton) (complaints linked here, here, and here filed by author). The 11th LD PAC transferred their funds to their lawyers and the Washington State Democrats and tried to “dissolve” to avoid liability for their violations (see letter here). Their attorneys then resigned after racking up additional legal sanctions and penalties.
The 43rd LD Dems (downtown Seattle) also is in the same sorry process (PDC complaints linked here and here plus dissolution letter linked here), although their attorneys are still representing them. The South King County Democrats PAC also is attempting the same shell game – break the law (complaint filed by author linked here) and then disappear. The 46th LD Dems also has travelled down this mistaken political road (complaint filed by author linked here). Additionally, a variety of local PACs and politicians were caught breaking the law and were forced to pay fines, including Frank Chopp (story here and here), and the Tukwila Firefighters PAC (story linked here). Many other local politicians and PACs are earlier in the process of resolving their campaign finance challenges.
The Presidential election results from 2016 have created well documented angst and drama for Democrats across the country. Overreaction and depression has also impacted the local King County Democratic Party scene. Often, the ranting and raving about the political events in Washington, DC overshadow political realities in Washington State.
The King County Democrats and their internal chaos and tribulations over the past couple years have repelled many local activists who would otherwise be involved. Internal drama drives activists away, and it certainly won’t help grow a movement. It is unclear whether Republicans are organized enough or capable enough to capitalize on the local leadership vacuum created by this chaos and infighting. While Democrats in King County may want to blame Republicans or Trump for their woes, the truth is all these problems are self-inflicted and blaming others will not change this fact.
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: