Politics & Government

Washington Senate votes for sunshine on ‘dark money,’ within limits

Nonprofit groups spending large sums of money in Washington political campaigns would have to disclose their biggest donors under regulations approved Wednesday by state senators.

The Senate gave a unanimous, 49-0 endorsement to Senate Bill 5153 that moves the bill to the House for consideration – but not before scaling back its scope.

Senators changed the reporting requirements to apply strictly to nonprofits, and only to those spending $25,000 or more. They exempted groups that are organized in a way that already requires them to report donors.

A group would have to report its 10 biggest donors of at least $10,000 as well as anyone contributing at least $100,000. Proponents originally wanted disclosure of all donors of at least $2,000.

“This bill makes groups all over the political spectrum nervous, and that’s probably a good thing,” Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane and the bill’s sponsor, said on the floor of the Senate.

Billig’s push for disclosure failed last year but then gained traction amid Republican outrage about an advertising campaign involving Sen. Tim Sheldon, a Potlatch Democrat and GOP ally. A nonprofit with ties to Democrats called American Values First spent more than $40,000 in Sheldon’s re-election race and contended it didn’t have to report its donors because campaigning isn’t the group’s primary purpose.

“If you can trace attack mailers back to the source, their authors might think twice about sending them in the first place,” Sheldon said in a news release after the vote.