In the early years of Washington’s voter-approved campaign disclosure law, a citizen activist in Olympia compiled a booklet titled “Who Gave? Who Got? How Much?”
Jolene Unsoeld, later elected to the state Legislature and U.S. House, combed through thousands of pages of documents to write her report.
Now, with electronic filing and online browsing, an activist should be able to do in minutes what it took Unsoeld months. But if she were to reprise her booklet today, it might have to be called, “Who Gave? Who Got? Who Knows?”
I’ve written several columns about Moxie Media, the Seattle firm that specializes in independent expenditure campaigns against Republican candidates. It is currently facing a lawsuit by the state attorney general for failing to adequately report its contributions and expenditures.
Some Democrats are rightly distancing themselves from Moxie Media. Others, however, prefer to play a game of Yeah-But, as in “Yeah, that was bad but the Republicans did it too and they’re worse.”
Rather than play in that particular sandbox, it might be better to simply point out that there is a pending PDC investigation into complaints against Americans for Prosperity Washington. And it doesn’t have to be worse to be bad.
AFPWA is a chapter of the national conservative group founded by former George W. Bush aide Karl Rove.
While the PDC staff is not yet commenting, it appears that AFPWA did violate state disclosure law. In fact, state chapter director (and former KVI talk host) Kirby Wilbur said last week that he now thinks his disclosure filings were late and inadequate.
As with committees formed by Moxie Media, Wilbur waited until after the election to report to the PDC who the group was, where it got money and how it was spent.
And when it comes to campaign finance disclosure, late is nearly the same as never.
The Washington chapter was formed in early March. If AFPWA is a grass-roots lobbying organization, as it claims, it was legally obligated to file a report within 30 days. That report should have included the names of organizers, managers and employees as well as money raised and the purpose of the organization.
No report was filed.
Wilbur said the spring and summer were spent fundraising, organizing training sessions and sponsoring rallies, forums and the “November is Coming” bus tour. State law requires that he file monthly reports on those activities.
No reports were filed.
After the primary, the focus appears to have changed to direct action against Democratic candidates. If AFPWA wasn’t a political committee before then, it likely became one when it produced and distributed hit pieces against a dozen House and Senate incumbents.
At least two – Sens. Eric Oemig and Randy Gordon – lost razor-thin elections. Had any of the targets checked the PDC website to find out who was blasting them, they would have found nothing on the group.
The PDC will have to determine whether AFPWA morphed into a political committee. Wilbur asserts that it was still a voter education group because its newspaper ads, doorbelling brochures and mail pieces didn’t urge voters to vote against the targeted Democrats.
But state law makes no such distinction. And if AFPWA spent more than $5,000 against any one candidate – something Wilbur denies – it would have been subject to even more-stringent disclosure demands for electioneering communications.
Only on Nov. 10 – after the general election and after complaints had been filed – did Wilbur hand-deliver his group’s first and only report to the PDC.
Wilbur said he had consulted with an attorney in D.C. and that he believed he had followed state law. But after I read him the law, he acknowledged that even if AFPWA qualifies as a grass-roots lobbying group rather than a political committee, he likely had not complied.
“We were not aware that until we started our voter education campaign that we had to file anything,” he said Friday.
“If I screwed up, I screwed up,” he said. “It wasn’t deliberate. I’m willing to do what we need to do to rectify that.”
Wilbur has left the AFPWA. This Saturday, he will try to win election as the chairman of the Washington State Republican Party.
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/politics