Last week, Democratic Washington State Representative Monica Stonier (49th District, Vancouver) settled a campaign finance lawsuit for a settlement of $6,215. Local Vancouver based newspaper- The Columbian reported on this case. There is a lesson to be learned for the organizations and candidates who are trying to “dissolve” or run away from their responsibilities. It is better to confront your mistakes than to try to run way from them. Representative Stonier was late in filing reports during her 2016 campaign, thereby depriving the voters of knowing who was funding her campaign or how she was spending her campaign funds for various periods of time during the campaign. She was not the most egregious violator of this statute.
The original complaint filed against Stonier was filed by this author on September 9, 2017 (linked here). Stonier responded to this complaint denying some of the allegations (linked here). The Public Disclosure Commission and the Washington State Attorney General’s office were too buried with enforcement cases to resolve this case in a timely manner. On behalf of the State of Washington, this case was filed in Thurston County Superior Court on December 14th last year. The lawsuit was settled on January 31st (linked here). Stonier was fined $2,900 ($1,450 suspended if she follows the law for the next few years) and she paid $3,315 in attorney and court costs, for a total settlement of $6,215 (only $4,765 out of pocket immediately).
There is nothing particularly fun about experiencing the wonders and joy of Washington State’s campaign finance laws. Nearly every candidate and political committee in the state has violated the statute (including Republicans), whether they are aware of it or not. This author’s efforts over the last year have helped prove this fact beyond all reasonable doubt. A large volume of complaints have been filed against elected officials and committees on both sides of the political spectrum.
How this campaign finance drama began
This all started when the Washington State Democrats decided to file a complaint against this author for a successful political effort to engage in the Thurston County Commissioner races in 2016. The Washington State Democratic Party also filed a lawsuit against this author for robocalls produced during that campaign (quickly settled). The State Democrats also filed a PDC complaint against this author (since dismissed). A death threat from a Democratic PCO during that time (resulting in a restraining order against the PCO), helped add to the civility of the local political scene (read more here).
As part of this author’s education about Washington State’s wonderful and exotic campaign finance laws, and in a careful and studious effort to help ensure compliance, only 314 complaints were filed with the Public Disclosure Commission. While the drama is still unfolding, the Attorney General incorporated about 40 complaints into 18 different lawsuits, and another 18 or lawsuits were filed on behalf of the state by this author (incorporating about 30 complaints, including this one). Many more are still in process.
The lead AG attorney, Walter Smith quit the AG because it was “unfair” to sue so many Democrats, and he started filing complaints against Republicans and suing them in retaliation (which shows how overtly biased that department was). Not satisfied by Smith’s limited success and volume, the Washington State Democratic Party decided to use their new law firm to file many more (the old law firm – Perkins Coie was caught up in a variety of investigations and scandals related to the Trump dossier file and violating campaign finance laws on behalf of the National Democratic Party). This brings us to now. A fine mess of bi-partisan complaints, lawsuits, and full employment for any attorneys who have read the State’s campaign finance laws ( RCW 42.17A).
There is good news – reform is in the air
Reform of Washington State’s campaign finances is in the air in Olympia. Real, tangible , even beneficial (shockingly) reform for the first time in decades. This isn’t a guarantee of good times to come, but it has the potential to fix a law that is demonstrably defective. Some of the bills suggested so far have been terrible. The recent bill drafted by Democrats (HB 2938 – original linked here) was terribly embarrassing, but it could be reformed to be useful (note that the bad language has been swept out for now, we will be watching to see what replaces it). Senator Billig’s bill (linked here) in the Senate is also a step backwards as it will only lead to more complaints and lawsuits (which the ACLU clearly pointed out during their ignored testimony). Senator Becker’s bill (SB 6161 linked here) is a well-intentioned draft that attacks a symptom (let’s require formal certification for treasurers) and not the underlying cause of the existing law’s defects.
Making the sausage of legislation in Olympia is never a pretty sight, and at this point, we can’t predict the future. However, there is hope and a real possibility beneficial reform will happen. Until then, the Democratic political committees ( like the Island County Democrats, the 43rd Leg. District Democrats, the 11th Leg District Democrats, the 49th Leg District Democrats, among others) can learn from Representative Stonier and face the legal consequences of their lawbreaking head on rather than make it worse by yet additional illegal behavior. They would certainly be in less legal trouble if they followed her example rather than trying to evade responsibility and run away from their violations.
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…