Mission of the PDC
The Public Disclosure Commission was created and empowered by Initiative of the People to provide timely and meaningful public access to accurate information about the financing of political campaigns, lobbyist expenditures, and the financial affairs of public officials and candidates, and to ensure compliance with and equitable enforcement of Washington's disclosure and campaign finance laws.
The origin of Washington's disclosure law can be traced to the efforts of concerned citizens who came together in 1970 believing that the public had the right to know about the financing of political activity in this state. In 1971, following an unsuccessful attempt to generate legislative action and with minimal success in 1972, those concerned citizens who now call themselves the Coalition for Open Government (COG), turned to the people. In order to place Initiative 276 on the November 1972 ballot, COG gathered nearly 163,000 signatures in record-breaking time. Seventy-two percent of voters approved I-276 and the law took effect January 1, 1973. In 1992, over 72% of reform-minded voters enacted contribution limits and other campaign restrictions with the approval of Initiative 134.
We are dedicated to building public confidence in the political process and government.
The Public Disclosure Commission is comprised of five citizens who are appointed by the Governor to five-year terms. While serving, commission members may not:
- hold or campaign for elective office,
- serve as officer of any political party or political committee,
- support or oppose any candidate or ballot proposition,
- participate in any way in any election campaign inside or outside of Washington State, or
- lobby, employ a lobbyist, or assist a lobbyist in any way, except on PDC matters.
The Commission is a quasi-judicial body and hears cases that allege violations of the campaign finance and disclosure laws. The Commission may assess penalties up to $10,000 per violation.
The annual agency budget is $5.2 million appropriated from the state's general fund. An Executive Director appointed by the Commission manages the agency's day to day operations. The 30-member staff's main responsibilities are to receive reports and make them available to the public. Annually, the agency receives approximately 6,500 annual personal financial statements and over 90,000 reports from candidates, political committees, lobbyists, and lobbyist employers. Staff members also provide filer instruction, monitor compliance, conduct investigations, and develop online filing applications and data management systems.
The campaign finance and disclosure laws rely on the antiseptic qualities of "sunshine" and several prohibitions to assure citizens of Washington that governmental systems and individuals who operate within it are open and honest. Before deciding which candidate, ballot proposal or pending legislation deserve support, the law provides citizens with an in-depth look at who is financing a campaign or has hired legislative lobbyists. In addition, monitoring efforts of concerned citizens, special interest groups, media and the Public Disclosure Commission ensures compliance with the law. The law contains five main elements that constitute one of the most exhaustive disclosure laws in the country and serve to build public confidence in the political process and government.
- Personal Financial Affairs: Anyone holding or seeking a state elected office, or holding a high-level state appointed position, is required to file a statement of financial affairs that discloses sources of income and gifts, real estate holdings, investments, creditors, businesses owned and the major customers of those businesses.
- Campaign Finance Disclosure: Candidates, political parties, political committees, and others who raise and spend money to influence candidate elections and ballot propositions must file regular reports that show who has given campaign contributions and how the money is spent. There is also a public inspection component that gives the public the opportunity to view campaign books during the week before each election and access to commercial advertisers' political advertising orders invoices at any time.
- Contribution Limits: The state's first contribution limits enacted by I-134 were applied to state office candidates, political parties, and the caucus campaign committees. The Legislature has since extended limits to most local office candidates. The Commission is charged with making inflationary adjustments to contribution limits in even-numbered years.
- Lobbying Disclosure: Paid lobbyists file detailed monthly reports showing the names of their employers, the amount of compensation, the identities of those entertained, provided gifts and contributed to and the amounts involved. Lobbyist employers file a similar report annually.
- Political Advertising: Anyone, including individuals, corporations, unions and other organizations, paying for ads that solicit votes, funds or other support for state or local candidates, ballot measures, or political committees usually must, as part of the ad, clearly identify themselves as the sponsor. Additional information is necessary if these ads are undertaken independently of a campaign.