Politics & Government

Attorney general files campaign-finance complaint against Port, chamber

State attorney general Bob Ferguson’s office filed a campaign-finance complaint Monday against Port of Tacoma officials, the Economic Development Board of Tacoma-Pierce County, and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce.

The complaint contends that port officials violated campaign-finance laws by spending public money — $45,000 in legal fees — to oppose the validity of a pair of ballot measures filed by activist group Save Tacoma Water. The Chamber and the EDB spent roughly $10,000 apiece for the same purpose; the complaint contends that those expenses, while not drawn from public coffers, should have been reported as campaign expenditures.

The complaint cuts against the view of the state Public Disclosure Commission, which unanimously recommended last week that no action needed to be taken against the three agencies. A statement from Ferguson’s office gave a partial rationale.

The complaint cuts against the view of the state Public Disclosure Commission, which unanimously recommended last week that no action needed to be taken against the three agencies. A statement from Ferguson’s office gave a partial rationale.

“Nevertheless, the Attorney General’s Office believes that the actions of the Port officials were prohibited,” a news release states. The statement adds that the EDB and the Chamber also should have disclosed money spent opposing the legality of the proposed initiatives, which would have required public votes for any new project that required 1 million gallons of water a day or more.

The ballot measures failed a legal test in July, when Superior Court Judge Jack Nevin ruled they exceeded the limits of local initiative authority. But the attempt to block the initiatives started a separate legal battle centered on the question of when a campaign begins: A complaint filed by activist Arthur West contended that the three agencies acted politically to block the ballot measures and thus exposed themselves to campaign-finance rules. The attorney general’s complaint argues similar points.

Save Tacoma Water campaign co-chair Sherry Bockwinkel was elated Monday, after learning of the complaint.

“Well, the port’s in trouble,” she said. “We’ve always thought they jumped the gun when they sued us and didn’t let the process go forward. This is serious.”

Representatives for all three agencies voiced unhappiness with the complaint after learning of it Monday afternoon.

“We’re still reviewing the AG’s filing,” said port spokeswoman Tara Mattina. “We’re disappointed that it disregards the recommendations of the PDC, the agency with expertise in campaign financing regulations and enforcement.”

Tom Pierson, president and CEO of the Chamber, said the PDC’s recommendation should have been followed.

We’re following the current laws of the state of Washington. If the AG wants new laws, he should be asking the state Legislature.

Tom Pierson, CEO, Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce

“We’re following the current laws of the state of Washington,” he said. “If the AG wants new laws, he should be asking the state Legislature.”

A statement from Economic Development Board CEO Bruce Kendall said the complaint “defies logic,” and also referred to the PDC’s no-action recommendation. “It’s unclear why the Attorney General’s office is taking this position.”

According to the attorney general’s statement, the defendants have 20 days to respond to the complaint.

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