This is Part I in a series…
Compliance with the law can be challenging sometimes. For many Democratic Party political committees in Washington State, this fact has recently been proven true. While this author’s efforts to expose the truth about the campaign finance laws have been criticized by some traditional media, and praised by others (see here, here, and here) there has been no overview of the difficulties faced by Democrats struggling with campaign finance compliance.
This author will not defend the campaign finance laws as they exist today. I am on record indicating that some long needed reform is in order, but along the road to reform, it appears that widespread lawbreaking is the default posture today for many politicians and political committees. Some of these cases are worth reviewing.
First, blame the Republicans for everything
Just like the Democrats struggling to comply with Washington State’s campaign finance laws, I blame the Republicans for the current woes of local Democrats. As I’ve written about before, our state’s campaign finance laws were enacted in 1972 as the result of a citizen initiative. Part of this initiative created the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) which was later codified into statute by the legislature.
An underlying assumption of the campaign finance laws was the belief that political contests would involve at least two parties attempting to compete for the same position or issue. Built into this assumption was the complaint driven process created by statute and rule where each side of the political fight would file complaints against the other when someone strayed from the path of compliance. Nobody wants to get caught violating the rules. This, in theory, creates substantial incentive for honesty and following these rules. However, nobody envisioned a scenario where one side just stops playing.
For some reason, over the last decade or two, most of the local Republican parties or organizations stopped filing complaints against their opposition. With a few notable local exceptions like Whatcom County and the Tri-cities, the Republicans generally didn’t file PDC complaints against Democrats. In fact, over the past 18 years or so, Democrats represented more than 80% of all PDC complaints filed (including intramural complaints between factions of Democrats). The downside to this trend begins subtly. When Democratic committees or candidates broke the law, no complaints were filed. There became no consequences for law breaking. Human nature, being true to eternal form, led to more widespread lawbreaking by the Democrats, abetted by apathy from the Republicans.
I interviewed many Republican activists, treasurers, and others around the state. They reported their perception that the PDC was politically biased and after experiencing complaints filed against themselves, they claimed discouragement. They tried to comply themselves, and ignored their political competition. Whether bias exists or not, the result of this widespread belief was extensive lawbreaking by Democratic committees and candidates around Washington State. Without consequences, the breadth and scope of these violations became more dramatic.
In all fairness to the Democrats featured in this article and future articles, while nobody forced them to violate the law, they certainly have a reason to blame the Republicans for the Democrat’s current legal woes. Had those darn Republicans been filing regular complaints against Democrats over the years, it is likely the Democrats wouldn’t have strayed so far from the law.
Spokane Dems – Habitual dysfunction and egregious violations
The Spokane County Democrats were sued by the Washington State Attorney General (AG) on May 11th in Thurston County Superior Court. They had already gained media attention after the complaints were filed originally. This case is probably the worst example in Washington State of a local political committee egregiously and maliciously violating the campaign finance laws in recent memory. In addition to suing the local county party, the AG also individually sued the previous County Chair Jim Castrolang and former Treasurer Justin Galloway individually.
The AG extended their investigation well past the violations this author identified in the original complaint. As the AG’s press release summarizes – the Spokane County Democrats failed to timely file at least $110,554 in expenditures and $104,190 in contributions over several years. Even when they finally got around to reporting this information, they purposefully hid over limit donations
from local tribes and unions. They also hid the payroll costs of their executive director and former chair Jim Castrolang. Despite the complaint and investigation, they are still failing to comply with the statute. In a particularly odd recent development, the Spokane County Democrats are not reporting their attorney fees, among other continuing violations. There is some irony in this because their attorney, Michael Connelly, is the former chair of the PDC and was on the PDC board for five years.
Spokane County Chair Andrew Biviano was not responsible for the majority of these major violations, although his failure to ensure the Spokane County Democrats comply with the statute since February is under his leadership and direction. This is particularly true because Biviano has a history of filing his own complaints with the PDC and makes regular podcasts ranting about Republicans. If a major lawsuit by the AG (even after Andrew included Attorney General Bob Ferguson in Andrew’s Facebook Profile picture), isn’t significant enough to convince him to pay attention to the law, what possibly could? Many political committees around the state are watching the results of this case to see just how much trouble a local committee will experience if a committee just completely ignores compliance with campaign finance laws.
Thurston County Democrats struggle with PDC compliance and leadership churn.
The Thurston County Democrats were the first political committee sued by the AG based on this author’s complaints. The AG filed suit on March 6, 2017, and this case is still in court. The dollar figures are far smaller than the Spokane County case, but the violations are clear. According to the AG’s press release, they determined that the Thurston County Democrats failed to timely disclose a $1,250 in-kind contribution, over $21,000 in expenditures, and $4,827 in debts incurred.
The Thurston County Democrats had a particularly tough 2016 election cycle. Not only were they sued by the AG, so were both Democratic candidates for the Thurston County Commission. Olympia City Councilman Jim Cooper lost his race for the county commission seat, and is currently in court with the AG filing cross motions and arguing over how many violations of the campaign finance laws he actually committed. Failed candidate Kelsey Hulse was also sued by the AG for her violations, but wisely settled her case for a $2,920 settlement in mid-February. Successful candidate for state Senate in the 22nd Legislative District (Olympia) Sam Hunt was also sued by the AG and remains in court at this time. Senator Hunt inspired this author to get involved in the campaign finance reforms late last year. Additionally, the JZ Knight/Ramtha cult-funded local SuperPAC (People for Thurston PAC), managed by former Director of Ecology Jay Manning is also in court over their campaign finance fiasco. Jay Manning also experience a personal campaign finance lawsuit from the AG in February when he was forced to pay $6,385 for violating the campaign finance laws with is personal financial disclosure documents.
In an earlier monthly meeting, former Thurston County Chair Katie Nelson complained extensively about this author and how I caused her to lose sleep. Apparently, the sleeplessness convinced her to resign her position with the party, and last month a new chair was elected. Gordon (Boudicca) Walsh, a Democrat Precinct Committee Officer from the Olympia 38 precinct was elected 2 to 1 over aspiring chair Rhenda Strub. Strub was formerly on the Olympia City Council, and she also was a candidate for the state legislature. Interestingly enough, State Representative Dolan (who prevailed over Strub and others to be elected as the new Representative for the 22nd District in Olympia) spoke in favor of Strub at the meeting, but the PCOs overwhelmingly chose Gordon (Boudicca) Walsh.
An interesting opportunity exists for the Thurston County Democrats with the election of Walsh as their new chair. For years, the Democrats have complained about the archaic law that requires local parties elect a man and woman for the top two positions of the local party (RCW 29A.80.30 – “At its organization meeting, the county central committee shall elect a chair and vice chair of opposite sexes.”). Since the vice chair identifies himself as a male, and Walsh was a male, but now identifies himself (herself) as a woman, perhaps there is a chance for some enterprising LGBTQ activist to challenge the statute and get an official ruling by the court as to whether gender identities really mean anything anymore. At the least, it could be a cool fundraiser opportunity for the Thurston County Democrats, and it would possibly launch the local party away from the failures of the recent past into a more colorful and interesting future. While the Thurston County Democrats struggle to comply with the campaign finance laws, at least they are staying on the cutting edge of cultural and societal evolution.
King County Dems – PDC bomb scare, and a general disregard for the law
As the recently elected chair of the King County Democrats, Bailey Stober knew he was stepping in to clean up a real mess. Part of his campaign platform was to fix the failure of the King County Democrats to comply with the campaign finance laws. Previous to Bailey’s election, the former treasurer made PDC lore by quitting the position, driving to Olympia and depositing the cash box, computer, and other files in front of the door at the PDC. In the morning, seeing a strange package at their door, staff contacted Olympia Police to verify it wasn’t a bomb. This drama is what ultimately led to the current legal woes the King County Party is experiencing with the AG lawsuit filed against them on May 12, 2017.
By dollar volume, this is a large case against a local county party chapter, second only to the Spokane County Democrats case in scope and significance at this time. Among other violations, the King County Dems failed to file a total of $65,442 in expenditures and $74,261 in contributions during the 2016 election cycle alone. Chair Stober is also in a bit of hot water with the AG for his own history of campaign finance violations, and is also dealing with the AG’s office on some legal matters related to an investigation into his own campaign finance challenges as a public employee at the King County Assessor’s office and during his previous campaigns for local office. Stober has been fined by the PDC for previous violations, and Stober has filed at least two different complaints with the PDC against others. This one he filed against a Republican representative – spending the first paragraph complaining about my complaints against other lawbreakers.
Although this author filed all the Citizen Action Notices related to Stober and the King County Democrats, I believe Stober is a good choice for chair of the King County Democrats and they are fortunate to have him lead their largest county party committee. He is only 25 years old, but when this whole process is finished, the fines paid, and all the lawsuits are settled, he will be a genuine PDC compliance veteran. His ability to weather this storm will demonstrate true leadership for a local party that desperately needs it. He also appears to be the original author (or co-author) of this helpful primer to local candidates and committees on how to survive complaints filed by this author. While some of the details are not accurate, there are some good suggestions found here. It is more practical help for local Democrats than anything the State Democratic Party has offered recently. Finally, despite the chaos, confusion, and challenges presented by the thankless task of being King County party chair (imagine herding cats which attack each other and blame you frequently), Stober happily soldiers on, which is a respectable character trait I admire in others.
Not everyone has this attitude…
To be continued in Part II…
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…
Background articles, links and source documents:
Washington State Attorney General Press Releases:
Articles about Spokane County Democrats:
Spokesman Review – May 26, 2017 – “Sue Lani Madson: It’s time to fix Washington’s flawed public disclosure rules” (opinion op-ed written after Sue Lani Madson interviewed Glen)
Spokane Talks Online – Meeting of Minds – May 24, 2017 (in-studio online streaming interview with Sue Lani Madson (Spokesman Review), Bart Hanson (Spokane Democrats) and Glen – discussing the PDC complaint against the Spokane County Democrats, and various campaign finance rules)
Inlander – May 12, 2017 – “AG lawsuit says Spokane County Dems’ financial reporting problems have lasted years, continue to this day” (good, detailed story about AG lawsuit filed based on Glen’s complaint)
Spokesman Review – May 12, 2017 – “Washington takes Spokane Democrats to court charging campaign reporting violations” (story about AG filing lawsuit based on Glen’s complaint)
Redoubt News – May 12, 2017 – “Citizen Action Snags Multiple Washington Democrats” (Idaho conservative blog site – overview of some of Glen’s complaints exposing campaign finance violations)
Inlander – April 17, 2017 -“Unreported poll previewed a Condon vs. Stuckart mayoral battle that never was” (Another article from Spokane partly about a second complaint filed by Glen)
Inlander – April 14, 2017 – “Drumheller No! When Spokane County Dems used scholarship money to pay for operations, some members were furious” (An article about a scandal exposed by Glen’s PDC complaint against Spokane County Dems)
Inlander – April 13, 2017 – “Dems in Disarray” (An article about PDC complaint filed by Glen on Spokane County Democrats)
Spokesman Review – March 17, 2017 – “Western Washington political activist alleges campaign finance violations by Spokane Democrats” (article about complaint Glen filed exposing very significant PDC violations by Spokane County Democrats)
Articles about King County Democrats:
Auburn Reporter – June 27, 2017 – “State demands documents in campaign finance case against Auburn man” (another article about King County Dem chair Stober and the AG’s efforts to obtain documents)
The Kent Reporter – June 23, 2017 – “State demands documents in campaign finance case against Stober” (article about complaint Glen filed against King County Democrat chair Bailey Stober and the effort by the AG to obtain documents)
The Olympian – June 1, 2017 “Meet the man who torments state Democrats over the way they fill out forms” (The Olympian editorial team puts their own spin to a reprint of the Seattle Times article – apparently they just discovered complying with the campaign finance laws requires people to fill out forms)
Seattle Times – May 30, 2017 – Second Version of Seattle Times Article (changed at 2pm): “Is this guy a Washington State watchdog or partisan annoyance?” (apparently Democrats contacted the Seattle Times and convinced them that the first headline did not portray Glen negatively enough)
Seattle Times – May 17, 2017 – “Political parties should set example with campaign laws, not flout them” (Editorial positive about Glen’s exposing of the truth)
Seattle Times – May 12, 2017 – “Washington AG’s office sues King County Democrats over alleged campaign violations” (Story about AG filing lawsuit based on one of Glen’s notices)
Articles about Thurston County Democrats:
The Olympian – December 22, 2016 – “‘Everybody is in violation of the PDC,’ says activist as attorney general files complaints” (First article about AG investigating Jim Cooper based on Glen’s complaints)
The Olympian – November 7, 2016 – “Last week, it was a death threat. This week, he’s getting sued for election robocalls” (It was a busy election season for Glen)
KOMO News – November 3, 2016 – “Thurston County Race Includes Death Threat and Criminal Investigation” (KOMO news did a short video on the death threat against Glen Morgan by Democrat official)
The Olympian – November 2, 2016 – “Man investigated for death threat tells deputy he was ‘fed up’ after robocall” (article about Democrat PCO who threatened to kill Glen)
KUOW – August 2, 2016 “Democrats take $50k gift from warrior spirit ‘Ramtha’ – despite anti-Mexican slurs” (local NPR affiliate interviews Glen as JZ Knight/Ramtha continues to fund Thurston County Democratic Party)