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PDC Complaint Investigation Process

Last updated January 2014

Printable version 

PDC Compliance Mission and Jurisdiction

Filing a Complaint

Initial Review of Complaints

Investigations

Status Reports of Open Investigations and Pending Complaints

After the Investigation

Public Records and Disclosure


PDC Compliance Mission and Jurisdiction

The PDC Compliance Division is committed to providing timely and impartial investigations of complaints about violations of Washington's campaign finance and disclosure laws and rules. These laws and rules found in RCW Chapter 42.17A and WAC Title 390, give the PDC jurisdiction to enforce requirements governing campaign finance, political advertising, lobbying and personal financial affairs statements.

Our investigations support the PDC’s mission and vision to ensure compliance with and equitable enforcement of Washington’s disclosure and campaign finance requirements, and to ensure and enhance public confidence in the political process and government.

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Filing a Complaint

Anyone who believes a violation of the laws or rules enforced by the Commission has occurred may file a written complaint with the PDC, by email or mail. All complaints filed with the PDC are public records.

In order to be processed, the complaint must include:

  • A description of the alleged violation(s), including the date, time, and place of each alleged violation, and the name of the person or entity responsible.
  • All available documents and other evidence demonstrating a reason for believing that the violation(s) occurred;
  • Contact information for the person submitting the complaint (Complainant);
  • For complaints relating to elected officials or candidates for elective office,the Complainant’s signature certifying under oath that the complaint is complete, true, and correct under penalty of perjury. 

A complaint form is available from the PDC and is also available on the website where it can be completed online or printed and mailed. Complaints can be emailed to pdc@pdc.wa.gov, or mailed to the PDC at 711 Capitol Way, Rm 206, PO Box 40908, Olympia, WA 98504-0908.

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Initial Review of Complaints

PDC staff review all complaints to determine whether sufficient information has been provided and if an investigation is warranted.  A complaint will not be investigated if it is:

  • About activity that is not within the PDC’s legal authority to address (for example, PDC does not enforce federal campaign laws or rules, or local  ordinances.  PDC also does not enforce the Public Records Act at RCW  42.52 or the Ethics in Public Service Act at RCW 42.56); 
  • Frivolous on its face;
  • Too indefinite;
  • Lacking sufficient information, such as the identity of the Complainant or the alleged violator, or lacking sufficiently detailed allegations or evidence for staff to determine whether it states a potential violation of a law or rule within the Commission’s jurisdiction;
  • Not sworn under oath and is about an elected official or candidate.

A complaint will be fully investigated when there is sufficient information to believe that a violation of PDC laws or rules has occurred.

For complaints with sufficient information to proceed, staff notifies the subject of the complaint (Respondent), and provides them a copy of the complaint along with an initial opportunity to respond.  Respondents are given an opportunity to explain their view of the situation by submitting a written response, which may also include reasons demonstrating why the Commission should take no action (for example, when minor, technical noncompliance was immediately corrected, etc.).  Staff will consider any response received as part of its initial review.

Based on the initial review, complaints are returned, dismissed with no or minor action, or assigned to an investigator for further investigation and possible enforcement action.

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Investigations 

When a complaint requires an investigation, both the Complainant and Respondent are notified that the matter has been assigned a case number and an investigator.  At this stage, a copy of the complaint is also posted to the Commission’s website. 

The length of time required to investigate and resolve a complaint depends on many factors, such as when it was filed, the type of case, the nature and complexity of the allegations, the amount and quality of evidence provided by Complainant, and the ease or difficulty of obtaining needed information.  Other important factors affecting the length of an investigation are the availability of staff and the number of other pending complaints already under investigation.  Investigations may take as little as a few weeks or, in some cases, as long as one to two years. 

We have set targets for how long investigations should take, with a goal of completing routine investigations within three months, moderately complex investigations within six months, and complex investigations within a year.  It is important to note, however, that these are targets only, and it is not uncommon for investigations to require more time.  The following general guidelines describe how we categorize complaints:

  • Routine cases are those where the issues and allegations are simple, straight-forward, and undisputed (for example, uncontested late reporting).  They require little contact with witnesses and need minimal analysis. Attorneys are not involved.
  • Moderately complex cases are ones that typically involve multiple types of allegations or several different violations, and may involve more than one Respondent.  They usually require interviews, and attorneys may be involved.  Most cases fall into this category.  Examples of moderately complex investigations are those involving issues such as failure to register and report, exceeding contribution limits or mini-reporting limits, political advertising violations, and use of public facilities to assist an election campaign.
  • Complex cases are those that involve complicated or novel fact patterns, numerous allegations, or complex sections of law, all of which require significant analysis; interviews with multiple Respondents and/or witnesses, or the review of voluminous records.  They often involve lawyers and may require issuing subpoenas for witnesses and documents. Examples of complex cases are those involving alleged concealment, significant or long-term failure to report campaign or lobbying activity; or complaints involving out-of-state political committees. 

Examples of things that can help an investigation move more quickly:

  • The more clearly and concisely a Complainant explains the facts describing a violation of a specific law or regulation, and the more specific the evidence provided with the complaint, the more efficiently staff can review and investigate the allegations.  Respondents and witnesses can also help expedite investigations by providing quick and thorough responses to the investigator’s questions and requests for information.

Examples of things that can slow an investigation down:

  • In addition to the factors mentioned above, investigations are also sometimes delayed due to the large amount of material needing to be obtained or reviewed, the unavailability of witnesses or their delayed responses to our questions or requests for information, and competing workload demands of the Compliance Division staff. 

If, during an investigation, Commission staff determine there is no basis for proceeding on a complaint, the Chair of the Commission is advised.  When the Chair concurs the investigation has not shown reason to believe a material violation occurred, or has shown that the Respondent was in substantial compliance or no enforcement action is warranted under the circumstances, the complaint is dismissed without requiring any formal action by the full Commission. 

Sometimes during an investigation, Commission staff may uncover additional potential violations other than those alleged in the complaint.  Staff may also determine that other people are potentially responsible for the violations than the person(s) identified by the Complainant.  When these things happen, the affected Respondents are notified and given an opportunity to provide a written response to the additional allegations.

During the course of the investigation, Commission staff typically creates a Report of Investigation, and makes recommendations for resolution of the case including what further action, if any, should be taken.  These are provided to the Commission (or Commission Chair, as appropriate) for consideration in resolving the matter. 

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Status Reports of Open Investigations and Pending Complaints

To protect the integrity of investigations and the due process rights of Respondents, the Commission does not provide details of open investigations to Complainants, the media, or the general public. 

Staff prepares a monthly report to the Commission regarding the status of open investigations, new complaints received, and cases closed during the prior month.  This information is available on the website with the Commission’s meeting materials.  General information about cases under investigation is also available through our Compliance Case Tracking System

Please remember that due to the nature of the legal and financial issues involved in PDC complaints, the volume of complaints we receive, and PDC’s limited staff, the investigation and enforcement process can be lengthy.  Your patience is appreciated. 

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AFTER THE INVESTIGATION 

PDC staff informs both Complainants and Respondents of the results of investigations. When and how that happens depends on the outcome of the investigation and whether or not enforcement action is pursued.

If an investigation reveals evidence of a material violation of laws or rules enforced by the PDC, Commission staff may issue charges or a report and schedule the matter before the Commission. The Commission may take administration enforcement action or refer the matter to the Attorney General's Office for prosecution in court. In these circumstances, Complainants and Respondents are provided notice of any open public hearing or proceeding scheduled before the Commission. A Complainant may be called as a witness in an enforcement hearing, but is otherwise not a party or participant in the proceeding.

If Insufficient evidence of a material violation is found, the case may be dismissed. Complaints may also be dismissed if the Respondent is found to be in substantial compliance wit PDC law and rules. 

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PUBLIC RECORDS AND DISCLOSURE 

The fact that a complaint has been filed with the PDC is public information, and anyone may request a copy of the complaint at any time.  Whenever staff’s initial review of a complaint determines that a formal investigation is warranted, a copy of the complaint  is posted to the PDC website.

During an investigation, all evidence and other records related to the investigation are kept confidential.  Once investigations are completed, the investigative files are available for public inspection and copying.  All decisions issued by the Commission in enforcement actions are posted to the website, along with the investigative records considered by the Commission in reaching its decisions.  This information is available through the Compliance Case Tracking System as well as through monthly reports posted on the website after each Commission meeting where enforcement matters are considered

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