Last week, Democrat Speaker of the Washington State House Frank Chopp paid $6,469 in fines and court costs to the state for a variety of campaign finance laws broken mostly during his uncontested election for the legislature in 2016. This lawsuit was brought against Speaker Chopp by Democrat State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. As both Chopp and the Editorial Board of the Olympian noted, he certainly earned his fines. In summary, Chopp committed the following violations:
- 28 days late in reporting $6,722 in expenditures in 2015
- 14 days late in disclosing $5,150 in contribution in November 2016
- 8 days late returning over-limit contributions last November
- Travel and campaign debt were not timely disclosed during the 2016 campaign
- Chopp was forced to refund his campaign $1287.13 in illegal campaign reimbursements which he had originally given himself.
In a press release on the same day the Attorney General outlined the two legal cases currently in Thurston County Superior Court which had also been filed against both Democrat Senator Sam Hunt and the Thurston County Democrats (we wrote about these cases here and here). While the Thurston County Democrats appear to be attempting to fight their charges before they settle the case, it looks like Senator Sam Hunt is still in denial.
Chopp and Hunt – contrasting styles
Regardless of what anyone thinks about Frank Chopp as a politician, observers must admit, he didn’t try to deny the truth. He accepted guilt, paid his fine, and moved on to other political priorities. This should be respected as the adult approach to dealing with a problem like this.
Democrat Senator Sam Hunt (D-22nd district), whose district encompasses the City of Olympia was another matter. Originally, Senator Sam Hunt would not comment, which was probably a prudent strategy. Later Hunt was quoted as stating that his violations were not “willful” and that he might fight the AG over these charges. While Senator Hunt is certainly entitled to enacting whatever legal defense strategy he desires, it really won’t matter. As long as he didn’t lie on his reporting documents, he committed at least the violations for which he has been charged.
Many lobbyists and insiders in Olympia have contrasted the response of these two experienced politicians. Frank Chopp admitted guilt, paid his fine, then moved on. Senator Hunt has just been whining, made a last minute effort to change the law (not to reform the underlying statute – just to protect himself from future complaints), and is flailing in anger.
This disappoints us. Senator Sam Hunt’s original letter to the PDC (linked here) that indicated this author was ignorant of the law was very inspiring. All these complaints originated, in no small part, due to the inspiration of Sam Hunt. Everyone currently involved with the PDC and the AG should thank Senator Hunt for encouraging this educational effort to learn about our campaign finance laws.
Democrats push for Draconian penalties
Attorney General Bob Ferguson is on a litigation spree and appears to be sticking to his campaign promise to rigorously enforce campaign finance laws, even if he is a bit more reluctant now that a handful of Democrats have been caught. However, while his office may be trying to slow down the process a bit and help their friends settle quicker for less money, others on the Democrat side of the aisle appear to be demanding even more aggressive enforcement.
Tina Podlodowski, recently failed candidate for Washington Secretary of State and recently elected Chair of the Washington State Democratic Party has been repeating her campaign talking points to encourage the state to be even more aggressive with bigger penalties and more bureaucracy.
She isn’t alone. Democrat Senator Van de Wege (from the 24th Legislative District – Olympic Peninsula) even proposed a bill this session to increase the penalties including jail time for campaign finance violators. These suggested penalties seem a little harsh to this author, but we would like to be in the room while he tries to explain to Speaker Chopp why he believes Chopp should be in jail for violating these laws rather than just pay a fine. A penalty like jail time would ensure Senator Hunt would do far more than just whine.
The need for Reform, not just punishment
These events all emphasize the need to reform the state’s campaign finance laws, but probably not travel down the road to sharia-like penalties as envisioned by Rep Van de Wege or Democrat State Party Chair Podlodowski . Here are just a few examples of possible suggestions:
- Simplify the reporting requirements.
- Emphasize contributions more than expenditures or debt reporting.
- In Statute – clarify minor vs. major violations – don’t leave this in the hands of a political appointee at the Public Disclosure Commission.
- Standardize contribution limits (committees, individuals, and judges – why are the maximum amounts all different?)
- Create a tiered penalty process that ratchets more significant for repeat offenders (and clarified in statute, not at agency level rulemaking – to avoid partisan bias)
We will probably discover more ideas for reform as we move forward. Despite bizarre editorials by papers like the Tacoma News Tribune, there would never be a conversation about reforming these laws without examples to illustrate the need for reform in the first place. Fortunately, there are still plenty of examples to be shown.
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…
Recent articles about Chopp Complaints
Recent articles about Spokane County Democrat Complaints
Recent AG lawsuits and other pending complaints:
December 19, 2016 -AG lawsuit against Theresa Purcell (Thurston Superior Court #16-2-04959-34)