Washington state campaign finance disclosure requirements and enforcement are changing due to a new state law that took effect June 7.
 
Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2938 revises aspects of how campaign activity is reported and how complaints about possible violations are handled. Among the changes:
  • Timely categorization and resolution of campaign finance complaints
  • New ways to resolve minor filing issues
  • Simplified and, in some cases, expanded reporting of debts, pledges and initial expenses
  • Adjustments to how campaigns meet their obligation to allow inspection of campaign books prior to an election
  • An optional dissolution process for committees that cease operations
  • Specific disclosure requirements for digital advertisers that sell political advertising
  • New thresholds for reporting independent expenditures
  • ​Increased commission penalty authority
The Public Disclosure Commission will be releasing information to explain the changes and help filers meet the new requirements. You can sign up for email alerts about those updates at www.pdc.wa.gov/engage/subscribe. Or you can follow along at this page.

 

News

September 14, 2018

The Public Disclosure Commission continues to accept comments on its proposal to make changes to the rules governing campaign finance reporting requirements and enforcement procedures for alleged violations. 

The proposed rules (posted here) will be the subject of a public hearing at 11 a.m. Sept. 27 at 711 Capitol Way S., Suite 206, Olympia, WA 98504. The commission expects to consider changes based on the comments received before adopting the final version in November.

Comments can be submitted at the Sept. 27 hearing, emailed to pdc@pdc.wa.gov or mailed to 711 Capitol Way S., Suite 206, Olympia, WA 98504.

Below are some of the comments received to date. We will post new comments as they are received and provided to commissioners. Check back often for updates. 

Proposed amendment to WAC 390-37-060 to modify rules for initial hearings 

Proposed amendment to WAC 390-37-060 to provide appeals process for warning letters

Proposed amendment to WAC 390-37-060 to make initial hearings open to public

Proposed amendment to WAC 390-18-050 to change commercial advertiser requirements

Proposed amendment on WAC 390-16-205 to redefine "expenditure by agent" 

Comment from Conner Edwards about preserving citizen action notices

Comment from Google LLC about WAC 390-18-050

Comment from Internet Association about WAC 390-18-050

Comment from Abbot Taylor about WAC 390-05-215, 390-16-034, 390-16-205, 390-16-207

Comment from Chad Magendanz about WAC 390-18

Comment from Washington State Association of Broadcasters about WAC 390-18-050

Comment from TechNet Northwest about WAC 390-18

Comment from Christine Hosler about WAC 390-18

Comment from BIAW about WAC 390-16-059

Comment from Lawton Printing about WAC 390-18-050

Comment from Capitol City Press about WAC 390-18-050

Comment from Broadband Communications Association of Washington about WAC 390-18-050

Comment from Pacific Printing Industries Association about WAC 390-18-050

July 24, 2018

The Public Disclosure Commission is seeking comment on proposed permanent rules that make a number of changes to campaign finance reporting requirements and enforcement procedures for alleged violations.  

The proposal builds on the emergency rulemaking the commission did this spring to implement Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2938. Those emergency rules took effect June 7 and will be in force through the end of the year. The permanent rules would take their place beginning Jan. 1, 2019.

The commission wants to hear from members of the regulated community and the public about the proposed rules and what improvements could be made. Comments can be submitted to pdc@pdc.wa.gov or 711 Capitol Way S., Suite 206, Olympia, WA 98504. The commission also will be taking comment at a public hearing at 11 a.m. Sept. 27.

The proposed rules are linked below:

WAC 390-05 General policies and definitions

WAC-390-12 Administrative procedures

WAC 390-16 Campaign finance reporting

WAC 390-17 Contribution limitations

WAC 390-18 Political advertising

WAC 390-19 Electronic filing

WAC 390-37 Enforcement rules

July 20, 2018

Candidates, political committees, elected officials and lobbyists who electronically file reports with the Public Disclosure Commission can now get email alerts when a PDC filing system is experiencing an outage or other issue.

The alerts are available by signing up at the PDC's subscription page: www.pdc.wa.gov/engage/subscribe. Choose the "electronic filing updates and outages" subscription. (Be sure to also select the other topics that interest you so that you are not unsubscribed from any lists you find helpful.)

Filers experiencing technical difficulties also can check for outages on the PDC website at www.pdc.wa.gov. An alert is posted on the PDC homepage when an outage is ongoing. More information about past and current outages is available on the PDC's outage page and calendar.

The PDC is required by Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2938 to keep track of outages and to notify filers. 

For questions or help getting signed up for alerts, email the PDC at pdc@pdc.wa.gov.

June 20, 2018

Inspections of campaign books in the days preceding an election have new ground rules.

Washington state law has long allowed members of the public to inspect a candidate’s or political committee’s financial records prior to an election. The inspections provide additional disclosure of campaign activity after a candidate or committee has filed its final pre-election report of contributions and expenses.

The Legislature passed legislation this year that made changes to the inspection requirements. The new law took effect June 7 and will affect inspections of campaign books before the Aug. 7 primary and the Nov. 6 general election. 

What the new law does

  • shortens the daily window for inspections to the hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.,
  • expands the inspection period from the eighth day before an election to the 10th day, 
  • doubles the time period that campaigns have to schedule inspection appointments to within 48 hours of the request, 
  • continues to exclude Saturdays and Sundays from the days when campaigns must grant access, and
  • eliminates the requirement for a campaign to designate at registration a location where campaign books can be inspected.

How the new rules work 

Given that the 10th day before an election falls on Saturday, the effect of the legislation is to provide a bigger window to make requests to inspect a campaign’s books while maintaining the same timeframe for inspections to occur. 

The requester must ask for an inspection via the email address listed on the candidate or committee registration filed with the PDC. For the inspection period prior to the primary, a requester can contact a campaign beginning Saturday, July 28, to request an appointment on Monday, July 30 at 9 a.m. or later.

The campaign then must grant an appointment that is within 48 hours of the request. The campaign must permit at least two consecutive hours for the inspection. 

The treasurer and requester must agree on a location for the inspection. If they can’t agree, the treasurer for the candidate or committee may make the books of account available electronically. Digital access is also an option for a campaign in lieu of scheduling an appointment. 

If the campaign's only copy of its books of account is maintained electronically with security protections, the person requesting the inspection must be given sufficient instruction to allow the inspection to proceed. 

For inspection requests received after 3 p.m. on the third day preceding an election (Saturday, Aug. 5, in the example above), the candidate or political committee need only make best efforts to accommodate an inspection. 

What’s required to be available

Campaign treasurers are required to keep books of account current within one business day. Books of account include a ledger, spreadsheet, or similar listing of contributions, expenditures, loans, debts and obligations to substantiate the information disclosed on the PDC campaign finance reports. 

If a ledger is not sufficiently kept, the books of account must include the underlying source documents such as receipts, invoices, copies of contribution checks, copies of cancelled checks for expenditures, notes or other documentation concerning expenditures, orders placed, and loans. In the absence of those type of source documents, the campaign or committee must make the check register available.

The candidate or political committee is not required to make copies of its books of account for the requestor or provide the name and address of contributors who gave $25 or less in the aggregate in total contributions.  

Videotaping, photographing or photocopying of the records is not required to be permitted but may be agreed to by both parties during or in advance of the inspection.

Questions?

This guide is intended as a resource to aid compliance with Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2938, and is not intended to replace applicable RCW or WAC provisions. The PDC encourages the public to consult ESHB 2938 and the emergency rules adopted by the Commission to implement ESHB 2938, which are available at our website: www.pdc.wa.gov/ESHB_2938_news
 
PDC staff also are available to answer questions. Email pdc@pdc.wa.gov with your questions or suggestions for how we might continue to improve our reporting guidance resources. 
June 8, 2018

Campaigns and the public will see changes to the way the Public Disclosure Commission handles complaints alleging violations of RCW 42.17A and WAC 390 under a new law that took effect this week.

The modified process was prescribed by Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2938, which was signed into law March 28. 

Preliminary review of complaints
Under the new law, the PDC has 90 days in which to resolve or advance complaints alleging violations of the requirements in RCW 42.17A, including those governing campaign finance disclosure, political advertising, lobbying, personal financial affairs statements, and the use of public facilities to support or oppose a candidate or ballot proposition.

During that time, the PDC must determine whether a complaint is: 

  • Unfounded or frivolous;
  • Appropriate for resolution as a minor violation, remedial violation or technical correction;  
  • Appropriate for investigation; or
  • Appropriate for referral to the attorney general.

Remedial violations and technical corrections
Two new alternative resolutions to campaign finance complaints were created by ESHB 2938: remedial violations and technical corrections. Resolving matters as remedial violations or technical corrections are additions to the other tools – such as warning letters and statements of understanding – available to the PDC to resolve complaints short of a formal investigation. 

A number of factors will determine whether a complaint might qualify for resolution as a remedial violation, among them: the harm to the public interest, the amount of expenditures involved, the timing of the alleged violation, whether the candidate won the election, how much the campaign received in contributions and corrective steps taken by the respondent.

Technical corrections are simpler to define: minor or ministerial errors on required PDC reports that did not materially impact the public interest. To qualify for resolution as a remedial violation or a technical correction, the identified deficiencies in reports must be timely corrected. 

Case status reviews
ESHB 2938 also institutes a new step for complaints that become investigations. Matters being investigated will be scheduled for an initial hearing (known as a case status review) within the first 90 days after the complaint was filed. Case status reviews will help ensure investigations are conducted expeditiously and will provide staff an opportunity to discuss possible resolutions with individuals being investigated. 

The executive director will give an overview of the case status reviews to the commission at its regular meetings. Following further investigation, the director has the option of initiating enforcement proceedings and taking cases to the commission for hearing. Cases may also be resolved by stipulation, subject to approval by the commission. The commission’s penalty authority is $10,000 per violation. 

Citizen Actions
The new law preserves the rights of a member of the public to bring a lawsuit alleging violations of RCW 42.17A on behalf of the state, but only after the PDC has had a chance to assess the complaint. If the PDC hasn’t resolved a complaint, opened a formal investigation or referred the matter to the Attorney General’s Office within 90 days, a member of the public can file a 10-day notice with the PDC and Attorney General signaling his or her intent to go to court.

Questions?
This guide is intended as a resource to aid compliance with ESHB 2938, and is not intended to replace applicable RCW or WAC provisions. The PDC encourages the public to consult ESHB 2938 and the emergency rules adopted by the Commission to implement ESHB 2938, which are available at our website: www.pdc.wa.gov/ESHB_2938_news

PDC staff are available to answer questions. Email pdc@pdc.wa.gov with your questions or suggestions for how we might continue to improve our filer assistance resources.

June 7, 2018

Campaigns that receive online or credit card contributions have new reporting requirements under Washington state campaign finance law.

The changes were part of Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2938. This is the fourth of several guides to help explain the legislation, which took effect June 7.

Contributions prior to June 7

Prior to ESHB 2938 and the emergency rules adopted by the Public Disclosure Commission to implement the law, campaigns were required to report the receipt date as the date they were informed of the contributions. 

Candidates and political committees that were informed of contributions – by way of a notice from the online vendor or otherwise – before June 7 should follow the prior requirements and report the receipt date as the date they became aware of the contribution. 

Contributions June 7 and later

Under the new law and revised WAC 390-05-215, online and credit card contributions are considered received at the time the transfer is made from the merchant account to a candidate or political committee account.

If a campaign was not aware of a contribution as of June 6, it should report the receipt date as the date the transfer is made by the merchant account. In these cases, the deposit date would be the same as the receipt date even if the funds were not immediately available to the campaign upon the the transfer by the merchant account.

Contributions near fundraising freezes

ESHB 2938 extends an exception for contributions made to a candidate who is a state official or legislator.

As long as the donor makes the contribution outside the fundraising freeze that begins 30 days before the legislative session and lasts though the session’s adjournment, the contribution is considered received outside the freeze period regardless of when the merchant account initiates the transfer. The same exception already applied to mailed contributions.

Questions?

This guide is intended as a resource to aid compliance with ESHB 2938, and is not intended to replace applicable RCW or WAC provisions. The PDC encourages the public to consult ESHB 2938 and the emergency rules adopted by the Commission to implement ESHB 2938, which are available at our website: www.pdc.wa.gov/ESHB_2938_news

PDC staff are available to answer questions. Email pdc@pdc.wa.gov with your questions or suggestions for how we might continue to improve our guidance resources.

June 6, 2018

Campaigns that wish to take an extra step to wind down their operations can, beginning June 7, file a notice of intent to dissolve with the Public Disclosure Commission.

The new option was part of Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2938, which amends RCW 42.17A.225 and RCW 42.17A.235 to create a dissolution process for committees that have ceased operations. The dissolution process is optional and not required for a candidate or political committee to be in compliance with RCW 42.17A following the filling of the committee's final report.

If a committee chooses to dissolve after filing a final report, it can submit a notice of intent at http://bit.ly/PDCdissolution beginning June 7.
By filing a notice, the committee will attest to the following:

  • The committee has concluded its activities in all respects and has ceased to function and intends to dissolve;
  • The committee has no outstanding debts or obligations, will not make any expenditure other than those related to the dissolution process, and will not engage in any political activity or any other activity that generates additional reporting requirements;
  • The committee has filed a final report;
  • No complaint or court action under RCW 42.17A is pending against the committee and it has not been informed by the commission of any possible violations or technical corrections which remain unresolved;
  • The committee has no outstanding penalties under RCW 42.17A as assessed by the commission or a court;
  • The committee accepts an ongoing obligation to maintain compliance with these conditions and an affirmative duty to notify the commission of any noncompliance;
  • The committee understands that the committee's bank account may not be closed before the political committee has dissolved; and
  • The treasurer is obligated to preserve books of account, bills, receipts, and all other financial records for five years, or as otherwise required by 42.17A.
  • The notice of intent will be posted on the PDC’s website. 

If, 60 days after the committee filed this notice of intent to dissolve, it remains in compliance with the above requirements and has not notified the commission in writing that it revokes its intent to dissolve, the committee shall be deemed to be dissolved. The executive director will acknowledge by electronic writing the committee’s dissolution, which will also be posted on the commission’s website.

If the committee has not met the requirements for dissolution, the executive director will notify the committee by electronic writing and explain the reasons it is ineligible to dissolve.

Dissolution does not relieve the candidate, elected official, or officers from any obligations to address violations that occurred before the committee was dissolved. 

Questions?
This guide is intended as a resource to aid compliance with ESHB 2938, and is not intended to replace applicable RCW or WAC provisions. The PDC encourages the public to consult ESHB 2938 and the emergency rules adopted by the Commission to implement ESHB 2938, which are available at our website: www.pdc.wa.gov/ESHB_2938_news

PDC staff are available to answer questions. Email pdc@pdc.wa.gov with your questions or suggestions for how we might continue to improve our guidance resources.

June 4, 2018

Beginning June 7, Washington state law establishes email as the Public Disclosure Commission’s official means of communication.

The new provision was part of Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2938. This is the second in a series of guides intended to help explain the legislation.

ESHB 2938 amends RCW 42.17A.055 to require that “(a)ll persons required to file reports under this chapter shall, at the time of initial filing, provide the commission an email address that shall constitute the official address for purposes of all communications from the commission. The person required to file one or more reports must provide any new email address to the commission within ten days, if the address has changed from that listed on the most recent report.”

For purposes of the new law, the email addresses supplied on candidate (C-1) and committee (C-1pc) registrations, personal financial affairs statements (F-1), lobbyist registrations (L-1), public treasurer’s annual reports (T-1) and other required reports will be the official point of contact for the PDC correspondence including enforcement notices.

Changes in email addresses must be reported within 10 calendar days. Those updates can be accomplished in one of two ways:

  • Filers who are actively reporting can make the updates themselves. Candidates and committees should file an amended registration electronically. For lobbyists and lobbyist employers, this FAQ reviews how to change email addresses.
  • For committees that have ceased operation or filers that report only annually (such as elected officials without an active campaign), the updates can be made by sending an email with the filer name, filer ID (if applicable), old email address and new email address to pdc@pdc.wa.gov.

The legislation also provides that “the executive director may waive the email requirements and allow use of a postal address, on the basis of hardship.” Waiver requests should be made in writing with a clear explanation of the hardship involved.

Questions?

This guide is intended as a resource to aid compliance with ESHB 2938, and is not intended to replace applicable RCW or WAC provisions. The PDC encourages the public to consult ESHB 2938 and the emergency rules adopted by the Commission to implement ESHB 2938, which are available at our website: www.pdc.wa.gov/ESHB_2938_news

PDC staff are available to answer questions. Email pdc@pdc.wa.gov with your questions or suggestions for how we might continue to improve our guidance resources.

June 1, 2018

A new state law that takes effect June 7 makes changes to when campaigns must report debts, pledges and initial financial activity.

Public Disclosure Commission staff are working to help candidates and political committees comply with the new requirements. This is the first of several guides in the coming weeks to help explain Engrossed Substitute House Bill (ESHB) 2938.

Debts

ESHB 2938 raises the threshold for debt reporting. Debts of more than $750 must be reported when they: 1) are outstanding as of the last day of the reporting period and have been outstanding for more than five business days in the 30 days before an election; or 2) are outstanding as of the last day of the reporting period and have been outstanding for more than 10 business days during all other times.

The law also clarifies that regularly recurring expenses of the same amount (such as rent, utilities, insurance, cellular phone costs, and payments to campaign staff) do not have to be reported unless they were past due on the last day of the reporting period.

Pledges

Pledges (a promise to make a contribution to the campaign) of any amount must be reported under the new law. The previous threshold was $100.

Initial expenses

Candidates or political committees that register after June 6 will not have to report contributions received and expenditures made prior to registration until the next reporting deadline. Previously, campaigns were required to report those initial contributions and expenses immediately upon registration.

Questions?

This guide is intended as a resource to aid compliance with ESHB 2938, and is not intended to replace applicable RCW or WAC provisions. The PDC encourages the public to consult ESHB 2938 and the emergency rules adopted by the commission to implement ESHB 2938, which are available at our website: www.pdc.wa.gov/ESHB_2938_news. The PDC will consider public input as it makes additional changes to the WAC during permanent rulemaking this summer and fall.

PDC staff also are available to answer questions. Email pdc@pdc.wa.gov with your questions or suggestions for how we might continue to improve our filer assistance resources.

May 17, 2018

The Public Disclosure Commission, in special meetings May 9 and May 17, adopted emergency rules to apply Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2938.

The new law creates a new structure and timelines for PDC assessment of complaints, requires a new dissolution process for committees once they file a final report, and establishes procedures and reporting exemptions for outages of PDC applications, among other changes.

The legislation, which passed the Legislature this year and was signed into law on March 28, takes effect June 7.

The short timeline from its passage to its effective date made emergency rules necessary. In passing the emergency rules, the commission also entered into the first stage of permanent rulemaking that will incorporate the new rules into Washington Administrative Code 390 on a long-term basis.

The process of permanent rulemaking will allow time for stakeholder input. Anyone who wishes to comment about the emergency rules or engage in the permanent rulemaking process can email their comments to pdc@pdc.wa.gov

Adopted May 9:

Dissolution of committees (WAC 390-16)

Debts and obligations (WAC 390-16)

Public inspection of campaign books (WAC 390-16)

Public inspection of commercial advertisers' records (WAC 390-18)

Electronic filing systems outages (WAC 390-19)

Adopted May 17:

Enforcement rules (WAC 390-37)

Role of the executive director (WAC 390-12)

Time limit to accept or solicit contributions (WAC 390-17)

Receipt of campaign contributions, political advertising definition, changes in dollar amounts (WAC 390-05)

The PDC will engage in permanent rulemaking this summer to implement ESHB 2938. Information about opportunities to engage in that process is coming. In the meantime, anyone who wishes to offer suggestions or comment on the new requirements can email pdc@pdc.wa.gov