Washington’s Speaker of the House Frank Chopp is not having a good week.
The state Attorney General’s Office announced Tuesday that the Seattle Democrat will have to pay $6,470 in penalty fines for not reporting campaign donations and expenditures on time during the 2016 election cycle.
Chopp’s been ordered to pay $3,480 in penalties up front; the rest of the sanction will be suspended for four years, barring no other violation during that period.
None of this would have come to light without the capeless crusade of conservative activist Glen Morgan, who’s made it his mission to comb through Public Disclosure Commission documents, looking for offenders.
Between October 2016 and March 7, Morgan filed more than 40 campaign finance complaints with the commission.
Morgan, who made an unsuccessful bid for Thurston County assessor in 2010, began his litany of complaints last fall, when Thurston County Democrats first complained about his PAC’s robocalls against Jim Cooper who was running for County Commissioner.
Morgan confessed he was ignorant when it came to the myriad of campaign finance laws, and vowed to educate himself on the regulations, a task he’s said will take years.
While Morgan was educating himself, he happened to see that Senator Sam Hunt, D-Olympia was guilty of some 2016 election violations. Failure to include sponsor identification, use codes for expenses and accurately list expenditures were just a few of the complaints Morgan filed.
One infraction cited Hunt for misspelling Washington State Historical Society, meaning his account technically was not accurate.
Morgan runs a website specifically for wannabe whistleblowers who scrutinize the financial profiles of candidates and public officials. When they see anything that looks off-kilter, they submit a complaint. Kids these days call this activity “trolling.”
Campaign finance enforcement depends on such complaints, but it’s unfortunate that Morgan and others have used them for political mortar.
Their objective is to undermine their political opponents, but in this game of tit-for-tat tattletale, they also undermine the public disclosure process and have turned the PDC into a pawn for political revenge.
The Attorney General’s Office has only 45 days to investigate and respond to complaints. If the office doesn’t start litigation, the citizen who complained can sue the violator. If litigation goes their way, the state keeps the money.
It keeps Attorney General Bob Ferguson on his toes. His office has boosted agency resources to handle the uptick in campaign finance casework.
Last fall, Audubon Washington was 62 days late disclosing $342.91 it paid its executive director for making a video. It took not one, but two senior assistant attorneys general to handle the case. In the end, Audubon Washington was given a sanction of $3,740.
Democrat Teresa Purcell, who made an unsuccessful bid for a 19th District House seat in 2016, was a target of Morgan’s. She described him as an operative of harassment paid for by the Republican Party.
Morgan told The News Tribune last week that the complaints he’s lodged, most of them against Democrats, have nothing to do with political chicanery. He said he just wants to broaden the conversation about reforming the complex rules and regulations of campaign finance in the state.
We are dubious. This is petty mudslinging, and the mud is flying both ways.
The Attorney General’s Office sued GOP Secretary of State Kim Wyman last fall after a complaint from the state Democratic Party. In January, Wynan was ordered to pay the state more than $10,000 for not reporting contributions and expenditures and not meeting deadlines.
King County Democrats currently have set their sights on Rep. J.T. Wilcox, a House Republican from Yelm.
PDC Executive Director Evelyn Fielding Lopez likens these frequent complaints to troopers on Interstate 5 being asked to ticket everyone driving a mile over the speed limit.
Lopez suggested a rational and lasting way to reform the system: She volunteered the PDC to adjudicate some of these complaints, suggesting a triage system that would filter minor infractions from flagrant violations.
This will require changes in the law and ones that should be made. It would be an exercise in self-interest if elected officials in Olympia made this a priority, because while they are sleeping, the trolls are fast at work.