In response to the negative News Tribune editorial attacking my efforts to expose the truth about campaign finance violations, it seems like the Editorial Board missed the point of the Public Disclosure Commission.
Voters want to know who funds political campaigns. The PDC exists to help provide this information for voters. When a voter takes the time to learn these laws and report violations of these laws as written by the Legislature, how does that make them a “troll?” This activity, until last week, was once considered civic engagement.
Regardless of political leanings, most want maximum transparency in our elections. Primarily, the average voter wants to know: “Who is funding this campaign?” Our campaign finance laws were designed to help answer this question. However, the laws and rules around campaign finance have become a Byzantine structure which rewards insiders and punishes newcomers to the process.
Most rules and laws violated by candidates or committees involve timely reporting of debts, expenditures and contributions. But there are many ways to violate the law, even unintentionally.
While intentions matter when it comes to the size of the inevitable penalty, good intentions are no excuse for violating the law. Most campaigns violate the law, and many don’t realize it. If almost everyone is violating the law, the problem is the law itself. This is why reform is necessary.
Incumbents, consultants and insiders of either party have little interest in reforming the law because they have learned how to use the rules to their advantage. Many rules enable insiders to micro-analyze their opposition’s political moves, strategically positioning their side’s campaigns in response.
This provides minimal practical benefit for public transparency. The bureaucracy resists reform because it’s comfortable with the way things exist today.
I recently filed several PDC complaints. Some, like a recent filing against the Spokane County Democrats, have exposed substantial efforts to deceive the public, hide money and demonstrate willful malicious behavior. Others, like the recent investigation and penalty for House Speaker Frank Chopp, demonstrates that compliance with the law, even by political insiders is difficult.
The King County Democrats retaliated with a complaint against Representative J.T. Wilcox, in which the first paragraph complains entirely about me.
I believe that reform is necessary and possible. It can be made without losing the benefit of transparency for the public and the media.
Let’s replace a complicated process of reporting with a standardized simplified approach. Debt, expenditures and in-kind contribution reporting requirements are emphasized beyond what is needed. A clearly defined hierarchy of violations that would differentiate minor technical violations from more serious violations would be a good reform. Right now, everyone is a violator.
This reform must be done by law, passed by the Legislature, in order to avoid political bias of appointees in charge of the PDC who can partisanly favor one side over the other.
Reform is not the path to utopia, but it can make the process better and easier for the participation of political newcomers. The complaints I recently filed provide examples of the need for transparency while illustrating some problems with existing law.
The Legislature writes these laws. The PDC writes the rules. The attorney general prosecutes violations.
Most politicians and political committees are in violation to some degree. Demonstrating this fact should facilitate reform. Without these complaints, the public and the media wouldn’t even know there is a problem.
Perhaps less time attacking me and more time considering ways to reform the system will produce a better outcome for all of us.
Glen Morgan lives in Tenino, Thurston County, and runs the website WetheGoverned.com.