Jim Cooper always dreamed of going into the Thurston County Courthouse. However, his original plan was to be the newly elected county commissioner, not a defendant in a lawsuit filed by the Washington State Attorney General’s office.
November’s election results were disappointing to Cooper particularly because his original campaign for the Thurston County Commission seat was considered a “coronation, not an election” by many insiders in the Thurston County Democratic Party. Losing a political campaign that seemed like a sure bet is never fun. Going to court to defend yourself from charges of campaign disclosure violations only makes it worse.
On Monday, the Washington State Attorney General’s office filed a lawsuit against Jim Cooper (see original complaint for civil penalties and injunctive relief linked here – # 16-2-04960-34). The claims are as follows:
- Jim Cooper, “…concealed and failed to disclose the true identity of contributors to the Thurston County Democratic Central Committee…” (RCW 42.17A.435 & 470)
- Jim Cooper, “…improperly transferred Defendants’ campaign funds to another political committee.” (RCW 42.17A.430(8))
- Jim Cooper, “…improperly used campaign funds for personal use including partial payment of the fair market value of the dinner as well as contribution to the Thurston County democratic Central Committee’s pre-election fundraising dinner.” (RCW 42.17A.445)
- The State asserts “…the Defendants’ actions stated in the above claims were negligent and/or intentional.”
This complaint was filed in Thurston County Superior Court on December 19th by the Washington State Attorney General’s office, which will now be the venue where Jim Cooper can defend his actions rather than take office as the new Thurston County Commissioner. Life and election results do have a way of changing even the best laid plans. However, travelling to the courthouse as a defendant is a more typical experience for most people who go there.
This litigation was the result of a Public Disclosure Investigation completed on December 16 (and linked here – PDC Case #8928). This PDC investigation was a result of the original PDC complaint filed on October 17 (and linked here). Jim Cooper had a variety of responses to these complaints which included an original denial of wrongdoing (linked here and here), and an attempt to shift the blame to me when I filed the original complaint (linked here). However, he had a much more conciliatory response to the PDC investigation (linked here). He stated that he would be “quite distraught” if he were to receive a warning letter from the PDC (which he received anyway linked here), but this distress is probably not as significant as the distress level created by formal prosecution by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.
Jim Cooper should not take this experience personally, as he finds himself in good company with others who have recently been in the exact same position including Tim Eyman and Secretary of State Kim Wyman. The disclosure rules are hard to follow, navigate, and accurately report for even the most experienced and capable politicians and candidates. Cooper’s campaign apparently committed a lot of these violations, but as learning experiences go, this one will probably be effective as a reminder for future reference.
Many more complaints against Mr. Cooper are in the legal system, this one was just the first
This litigation should also be kept in the context of a variety of additional complaints which were filed against Jim Cooper in his failed campaign for the Thurston County Commission seat. Complaint #9772 was filed on November 11 (linked here) for failure to accurately report expenditures, among other violations. Complaint #10009 was filed on November 28 (linked here) for false claims regarding an endorsement. Complaint #10471 was filed on December 7 (linked here) for failure to report expenditures and occupation of a contributor. The most recent complaint was filed on December 15 (linked here) for illegal personal use of campaign funds, accepting overlimit donations, failure to report expenditures, among other violations. Arguably, many of these allegations, if Cooper is found to have violated them, are more serious than the charges already being litigated by Washington’s Attorney General.
Cooper has expressed animosity towards me for filing these original complaints, but this is misguided anger. The laws are written by the legislature and signed by the Governor. The rules are written by the bureaucrats and approved by the Public Disclosure Commission. The Attorney General is an elected official, and it appears that the AG employees are merely taking their directions from the law and the elected executive for their department. I am the least important person in this process as the original messenger.
Representative Sam Hunt, soon to be state Senator Sam Hunt
(LD#22-Olympia), made an accurate assessment when he communicated in this letter to the PDC (in response to my first complaint filed against Representative Hunt #9205) when he stated I was “…someone who evidently has little knowledge of campaign finance laws and PDC requirements.” I agree, and I am clearly a newcomer to the process, but I am doing my best to educate myself. Life is a journey of education and learning. This process is no exception. Thanks to Hunt’s encouragement, and his campaign’s sloppy paperwork, the most recent complaint (linked here) filed against Sam Hunt on December 19 was far more thorough than the first one. I am sure Hunt and Cooper would agree that education helps improve the quality of the final product.
Why this even matters
People work hard for their money. At some point, these campaign donations were earned by someone – even if it was only a one dollar donation, and it is reasonable to expect that these funds be spent well and transparently. The public, if they watch closely, can see how this money is used (or wasted) and get a sense from a candidate how they will spend (or waste) the people’s money as an elected official. The AG uses some pretty harsh language in this complaint. This isn’t Cooper’s first campaign. He was a campaign manager for others, ran for office three times himself (twice elected to the Olympia City Council), and he grew up around his father’s frequent political campaigns in Snohomish County. The AG is right to expect someone with Cooper’s experience to not be making so many rookie mistakes. Cooper should have more respect for the responsibility he has been given, and most of these mistakes showed little respect for the money generously donated to his campaign. Imagine how he treats the taxpayer dollars he manages while in political office.
I am glad that Jim Cooper will not be a Thurston County Commissioner. I was actively and vocally opposed to his hostile policies towards the rural residents of Thurston County – which included my friends and neighbors. I was also engaged in the recent campaign with robocalls, lawsuits (mostly filed against me by Democrats), death threats, and high drama. The local election outcome was good for the people who live in Thurston County. However, I am also encouraged by the opportunity Cooper has to learn about the campaign finance law just like all of us. While litigation isn’t the cleanest educational classroom, it does tend to focus the student (or defendant in Cooper’s case) on the important things. Humility comes with experience. In the end, Mr Cooper has the opportunity to receive a great educational experience at the Thurston County Courthouse, even if it wasn’t the exact experience Jim Cooper originally had in mind.
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…