When Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson decided to emphasize aggressive enforcement of the state’s campaign finance laws, his intention was to focus on outsiders like initiative activist Tim Eyman, deep pockets like the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and the occasional political targets of opportunity like Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman.  He never expected his vigorous promotion of the state’s Byzantine campaign finance laws would encourage some people (like this author) to expose a broader spectrum of campaign finance violators, which included some of Ferguson’s Democratic allies.  This was never part of the plan.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson watches his protege, Walter Smith talk about suing Tim Eyman a few months ago.

In the AG’s office, it just wasn’t fair to sue Democrats

Walter Smith is just looking to do what he is told

One of Ferguson’s protege hires for the campaign finance unit Ferguson created was former AG prosecutor Walter Smith, who was a longtime hyper partisan who “resigned” from the AG’s office a few weeks ago because he felt it was “unfair” for the office to be suing so many Democratic politicians and committees.  Mr. Smith promptly formed a law firm a few blocks from the AG’s office and immediately started filing campaign finance complaints (and lawsuits), against Republicans as retaliation for this “unfairness.”

Mr. Smith, as a recent employee of the AG’s office may have used his access to proprietary information obtained while paid by the state’s taxpayers to now personally enrich himself.  His new, two person “firm” (his partner is a former AG employee as well) is the attorney in these lawsuits, so he can profit from the attorney fees. Serious questions have been raised about the likelihood of collusion by other employees at the AG’s office in Smith’s recent activities (a serious ethical breach for all involved, and a major violation of the state’s public employees ethics laws if proven true).  

Did Mr. Smith pursue Democrats with the same diligence that he used to prosecute Kim Wyman last year? He certainly was not as enthusiastic

Additional questions are being raised as to whether Smith actually pursued the campaign finance cases against Democrats (which he said were “unfair”) with the same diligence he used in attacking Tim Eyman, Kim Wyman, and an unemployed cobbler and retired judge from Grant County (now being charged $454,000 for a $3900 illegal mailer produced a few years ago in a local Grant County Prosecutor race).  It now appears possible that Smith was colluding with and now cooperating with organizations and candidates who he supposedly was “investigating” while being paid by the taxpayer.  

Whether Smith or Ferguson admit collusion or not, it is obvious that senior Democrats are bragging about their control and involvement in using AG employees to do their bidding right now.  Some have even bragged about it on Facebook.

Bailey Stober, King County Democratic Chair responding to a Republican. Walter Smith was supposedly investigating Stober.

 

Does the campaign finance law treat everyone equally?

As I have written about before, the state’s campaign finance laws appear to have had a disparate impact on Republicans over the last 20 years when compared to Democrats.  This doesn’t necessarily mean the law was enforced unequally during this time.  Part of the reason for this disparate impact was the fact that the campaign finance laws are mostly enforced as a complaint driven process.  Over the last 20 years, the Democrats have simply been more prolific and capable complainants (against Republicans and against fellow Democrats) than the Republicans.  With a few notable exceptions, the Republicans mostly didn’t participate in the complaint side of the campaign finance laws, which ultimately created the problem many Democratic political committees and candidates are experiencing right now.

Bob Ferguson posed for a photo with Andrew Biviano, chair of the Spokane County Democrats a few weeks before he sued them for egregious campaign finance violations

Since most Democrat politicians and committees could violate the state’s campaign finance laws with impunity, thanks to the Republican unwillingness to pay attention or inability to file complaints, it became inevitable that many Democratic affiliated committees and candidates would drift further and further away from campaign finance law compliance.  Sometimes this became brazen, egregious wholesale violation of the statute like the Spokane County Democrats, and sometimes it is because nobody paid much attention to the law in the past.  In other cases, the law is convoluted and unclear so that violations are inevitable no matter how much a campaign attempts to comply.

How did so many Democratic politicians and committees suddenly get in so much trouble?

Jim Cooper and Kelsey Hulse – they were the Democrat choices for Thurston County

The current campaign finance ruckus began last year during the 2016 campaign season.  I created two small local political action committees (PACs) in Thurston County and engaged in the local political process.  This involvement led to a variety of unfortunate, but typical overreactions by the Democratic Party.  Responses included a death threat against me by a local Democratic PCO (not exactly a genius – leaving the voicemail from his home phone).  A lawsuit was filed against me by the Washington State Democratic Party (it was petty and settled quickly).  A Public Disclosure Commission (PDC)  Complaint was filed against me by the Washington State Democratic Party (ultimately dismissed by the PDC a few months ago).  Multiple other legal attacks targeted me from local Democratic politicians, activists, and donors.  Fair enough.  Nobody said participating in the political process was a “safe space,” and the Thurston County Democratic Party performed exceptionally poorly in 2016.  They were lashing out and I am a convenient target for their hatred.  

Attorney General Bob Ferguson was very enthusiastic about campaign finance law until he started suing Democrats

I also became inspired by Ferguson’s increased enthusiasm for the state’s campaign finance laws (the Wyman case was making the news at the time).  Additionally, I had filed a PDC complaint against Olympia Democratic Senator Sam Hunt (among other local Democrats who were attacking me at the time) and he told the PDC I was ignorant of campaign finance laws.  Hunt was right.  Senator Sam Hunt inspired me to become less ignorant, and thus began a seemingly Quixotic campaign to expose the problems with our state’s campaign finance laws.  Since I was being sued, threatened, and attacked by the Democratic Party, it made perfect sense to begin looking at how well they complied with the law.  Their compliance was poor.  Very poor.

Many Democratic politicians and committees go to court

Because of the complaints I have filed, the following politicians and committees were sued by the Washington State Attorney General’s office for campaign finance violations over the past 10 months or so:

  1. Theresa Purcell (D) – failed candidate for legislature in 19th Legislative District
  2. Jim Cooper (D) – failed candied for Thurston County Commission
  3. Kelsey Hulse (D) – failed candidate for Thurston County Commission
  4. Thurston County Democratic Central Committee
  5. Senator Sam Hunt (D) – Olympia, 22nd Leg. District
  6. Jay Manning (former Director, Dept. of Ecology)
  7. Speaker of the House Frank Chopp (D) – Seattle, 43rd Leg. District
  8. Representative Jeff Morris (D) – San Juans/Skagit, 40th Leg District
  9. Representative Strom Peterson (D) – Edmonds, 21st Leg District
  10. Spokane County Democratic Central Committee
  11. King County Democratic Central Committee
  12. San Juan County Democratic Central Committee
  13. Kittitas County Democratic Central Committee
  14. Pierce County Democratic Central Committee
  15. Sharlaine LaClair (D) – failed candidate for legislature (42nd District)
  16. Eastside Democratic Dinner Committee
  17. Washington North Idaho District Council Laborers PAC
  18. Bailey Stober, King County Democrats Chair (petition for documents)
JZ Knight claims to Channel Ramtha – a 35,000 year old warrior spirit who likes twinkies and donates big cash to Democrats

In addition to these groups, lawsuits were also filed on behalf of the State of Washington against the People for Thurston PAC run by Jay Manning (former Director of the Washington State Department of Ecology) and sponsored by cult leader JZ Knight as well as the Island County Democratic Central Committee and the 11th Legislative District Democrats.  More lawsuits will continue to be filed over the next few weeks.  

These cases are what AG employee Walter Smith deemed as being “unfair,” so he quit. Possibly, he sabotaged the cases he was “working” on and then he began filing copy-cat complaints against Republican legislators, committees, this author, and others.  Mr. Smith even has his own blog site where he appears fixated on this author. 

The case for reform of the State’s campaign finance laws

I have argued from the beginning of this process last year that our state’s campaign finance laws need serious reform.  Despite good intentions, they have been drafted and modified over the years to ensure that few can completely comply.  This challenge with compliance is particularly true for political newcomers.  Laws are written to help incumbents. Strong resistance to reform is crafted in the law because incumbents have no incentive to make the job easier for future challengers.  

My efforts to expose the problems with the statute and build a statistically significant dataset of information which can be used for realistic reform continues to grow.  When this is combined with the self-serving retaliation complaints filed by Ferguson’s former employee, Mr. Smith, the problems with the statute are impossible to ignore.  By the time the next legislative session begins in January, there will be very few politicians of either political party in Olympia who have not been sued, fined, or found guilty of the state’s campaign finance laws.  Few political committees will escape unscathed either.

What every political party and all politicians want to say

The result should be obvious.  Either we must believe that everyone in politics is a lawbreaker, or there is something wrong with the law.  I have argued that reform of the law is needed, and made this case to two different PDC Directors and at public comment at the Public Disclosure Commission for almost a year now.   However, any fixes or reform must come from the legislature as the PDC can only change some of the minor rule problems.

The fight over the rules is a fight over the money and who is in control.

Of course, the challenge with reform will be that “reform” means different things to different people.  Logical nonpartisan reform would lead to changes in the statute that would make compliance easier and would prioritize the disclosure of who funds campaigns over the minutia of minor technical violations currently made by everyone (often without willfulness or malice).  However, many political insiders simply want to prevent politicians or committees of “their” party from being held to the same standard they want to apply to “the other guys.”  This attitude won’t lead to effective reform.

Fortunately this Don Quixote campaign finance project is occurring during an off-year election cycle.  This timing is optimal to expose the truth about the law with plenty of time for the legislature to find a bipartisan/nonpartisan fix before the full campaign season begins in 2018.  Failure to craft meaningful reform will lead to another year of escalating complaints, lawsuits, and further crater the declining credibility of the AG’s office in this matter.  If the legislature can’t reform the campaign finance laws during the next session, next year’s campaign finance complaint season is sure to become a discouraging wasteland of political litigation.  

I’m sure somebody will “win,” but the pyrrhic victory amidst the ruins will be ugly…

______________________________________________

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:

AG Attorney complains suing Democrat lawbreakers “unfair”, quits to sue Republicans

Tacoma News Tribune – “Is Olympia lawyer the Democrats’ champion in complaint-filing war?”

The Chaos of Campaign Finance Compliance and the Disarray of the Dems

Inlander – April 13, 2017 – “Dems in Disarray”

August 18, 2017 – AGO settles Campaign Finance Complaint against Representative Strom Peterson for a settlement of $11,950.  Peterson pays $7, 595 with the rest deferred.Note- this was sent out as a tweet on August 21, 2017 in lieu of a press release

August 15, 2017 – AGO files Campaign Finance Complaint against Pierce County Democrats

August 2, 2017 – AGO Files Campaign Finance Complaint against Washington & North Idaho District Council of Laborers PAC

July 14, 2017 – AGO files campaign finance complaint against Kittitas County Democrats

June 29, 2017 – AGO files campaign finance complaint against San Juan County Democrats

June 23, 2017 – AG’s Office demands documents be disclosed in campaign finance case

June 19, 2017 – AG files campaign finance complaint against Eastside Democratic Dinner Committee

May 12, 2017 – AGO Files Campaign finance complaint against King County Democratic Central Committee

May 12, 2017 – AGO Files Campaign finance complaint against Spokane County Democratic Central Committee, Two Committee Officers

April 10, 2017 – AGO files Campaign Finance Complaints Against State Lawmakers, Former Candidate

March 14, 2017 – Chopp to pay $6469 over Campaign Finance Allegations

March 14, 2017 – AG files Campaign Finance Complaints against Senator Hunt and Thurston County Democrats

February 13, 2017 – EWU Trustee (Jay Manning), Audubon Washington to pay penalties, costs in separate campaign finance cases

December 19, 2016 – AG Files Campaign Finance Complaint against 19th District House Candidate (Theresa Purcell)

December 19, 2016 – AG files Campaign Finance Complaints against Budget and Policy Center, Thurston County Candidate (Jim Cooper)

1 COMMENT

  1. Glen, you big bully. The Democrats mean well, why are you picking on them? LOL GOP must stand for Generally Overpowered Party or may its Generally Overly-timid Party. I am not sure why, but as you said, politics is not a safe zone, and if the GOP continues to go for the milquetoast, unprincipled. PC candidates over those that are willing to stand on principle, than we will just keep seeing the same results. For the Democrat party, politics if life and they fight like it means just that. For Republicans, conservatives anyway, politics is just a bother and a waste of time, we think we have more important things to do. Always remember; You are free to ignore politics…But you will not stay free if you do.
    I sure hope that all this effort restores some freedom of speech, (political anyway), but with basically one warrior fighting for all of us, (even the Democrats), against a really stupid statewide Democrat party, that hope is slim. In the immortal words of one of the Dumb and Dumber characters, the odds are one in a million,” So you’re saying there is a chance”. Hope really never dies
    Thanks for all the hard work Glen, keep tilting against those wind mills, you may be taking them down one by one.

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