Case #42112
Respondent name: Glen Morgan
Complainant name: Fletcher Sandbeck

As of Wednesday, October 24, 2018, the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) had received 31 complaints that were filed against four political committees recently registered with the PDC: (1) A Brighter Thurston County PAC; (2) Conscience of the Progressives PAC; (3) Real Progressives in Thurston County PAC; and (4) Send a Message PAC.  Some of the complaints contained allegations against the Campaign Manager for the committees Glen Morgan and/or Treasurer Orin Wells in their individual capacities.

 

The complaints alleged that the four political committees listed above, and/or Messrs. Morgan and/or Wells individually, produced and distributed independent expenditure (IE) political advertising in the form of direct mail pieces that violated: (1) RCW 42.17A.205 by failing to timely disclose the committee officers and other required information on the Committee Registration (C-1pc report); (2) RCW 42.17A.320 by failing to include the party preference for a candidate featured in the IE political advertisements; (3) RCW 42.17A.335 by sponsoring IE political advertising that contained either false statements of material facts, or false endorsements about a candidate, made with malice; (4) RCW 42.17A.435 by concealing the source of contributions used by the political committees; and  (5) RCW 42.17A.442 for making unauthorized contributions to another committee without first receiving contributions of ten dollars or more each from at least ten persons registered to vote in Washington State.     

 

The IE advertisements sent the message that the sponsoring political committees requested recipients to write-in the names of four individuals that included Teresa Purcell, Joe Pakootas, Nathan Schlicher, and EJ Zita in the 2018 elections, even though those individuals are not declared candidates seeking public office in 2018. 

 

Complaints filed against Real Progressives in Thurston County PAC and A Brighter Thurston County PAC

 

  • The complaints against Real Progressives in Thurston County PAC and A Brighter Thurston County PAC alleged violations of RCW 42.17A by sponsoring an IE advertisement in opposition to Tye Menser, a 2018 candidate for Thurston County Commissioner.  The mailer mentioned Fuse Washington (Fuse), the state's largest progressive organization (whose goals according to its website include assisting progressive candidates in getting elected to office and to “give ordinary people a strong voice in politics”) and a Fuse publication entitled Fuse WA Progressive Voters Guide. The mailer requested that voter’s write-in EJ Zita as the real Progressive candidate for County Commissioner in 2018, despite the fact Ms. Zita is not a declared candidate for public office or registered with the PDC in 2018 and is not conducting a write-in campaign.  FUSE endorsed Tye Menser for Thurston County Commissioner in 2018, and in 2017 Fuse endorsed Ms. Zita for her campaign for Port of Olympia Commissioner.   A quote on the mailer from the Fuse Progressive Voters Guide about Ms. Zita was from the 2017 election, although the mailer does not so indicate.

 

Complaints filed against Conscience of the Progressives PAC (Sponsored by Send a Message PAC)

 

1. Erin Frasier, a 2018 candidate for State Representative in the 19th Legislative District:  The complaints allege violations of RCW 42.17A for sponsoring an IE advertisement mailer stating that Teresa Purcell, a 2016 candidate for State Representative in the 19th Legislative District, should be written in as a 2018 candidate as the real Progressive candidate.   The mailer mentions Fuse and the Fuse WA Progressive Voters Guide

 

  • The mailer requested that voter’s write-in Ms. Purcell as the real Progressive candidate for State Representative in the 19th Legislative District, despite the fact Ms. Purcell is not a declared candidate for public office or registered with the PDC in 2018 and is not conducting a write-in campaign.  Fuse endorsed Erin Frasier for State Representative in the 19th Legislative District in 2018, and in 2016 Fuse endorsed Ms. Purcell for her campaign for State Representative in the 19th Legislative District.   The quote from the Progressive Voters Guide about Ms. Purcell was from the 2016 election, although the mailer does not so indicate.

 

2. Connie FitzPatrick, a 2018 candidate for State Representative in the 26th Legislative District: The complaints alleged violations of RCW 42.17A for sponsoring an IE advertisement mailer stating that Nathan Schlicher, a 2014 candidate for State Senator in the 26th Legislative District, should be written in as a 2018 candidate as the real Progressive candidate.  The mailer mentions Fuse and the Fuse WA Progressive Voters Guide

 

  • The mailer requested that voter’s write-in Dr. Schlicher as the real Progressive candidate for State Representative in the 26th Legislative District, despite the fact Dr. Schlicher is not a declared for public office or registered with the PDC in 2018 and is not conducting a write-in campaign.  Fuse endorsed Connie FitzPatrick for State Representative in the 26th Legislative District in 2018.  Fuse endorsed Dr. Schlicher for his campaign for State Senator in the 26th Legislative District in 2013, and his candidacy for State Representative in 2014.   The quote from the Progressive Voters Guide about Dr. Schlicher was from either the 2013 or 2014 election, although the mailer does not so indicate.

 

 

3. Jessa Lewis, a 2018 candidate for State Representative in the 6th Legislative District:  The complaints allege violations of RCW 42.17A for sponsoring an IE advertisement mailer stating that Joe Pakootas, a 2016 candidate for Congress from the 5th Congressional District, should be written in as a 2018 candidate as the real Progressive candidate.  The mailer mentions Fuse and the Fuse WA Progressive Voters Guide

 

  • The mailer requested that voter’s write-in Mr. Pakootas as the real Progressive candidate for State Representative in the 6th Legislative District, despite the fact Mr. Pakootas is not a declared candidate for public office or registered with the PDC in 2018 and is not conducting a write-in campaign.  Fuse endorsed Jessa Lewis for State Representative in the 6th Legislative District in 2018, and in 2016 Fuse endorsed Mr. Pakootas for his campaign for Congress in the 5th Congressional District.   The quote from the Progressive Voters Guide about Mr. Pakootas was from the 2016 election, although the mailer does not so indicate.

 

All four committees created by Mr. Morgan were first-time committee’s that registered as continuing political committees, as opposed to registering as single-year political committees which would have provided a higher degree of transparency by requiring the disclosure of the candidates supported or opposed by each committee on the       C-1pc report.   

Concerning the allegations listed in the 45 complaints that Mr. Morgan and the political  committees that sponsored the mailers may have violated RCW 42.17A.335, by including defamatory statements against the official 2018 candidate, the purported write-in, and Fuse Washington, and that the sponsor of the advertising knew such statements were false or published them with a reckless disregard for the truth, PDC staff found:

  1. The five IE mailers distributed by the two committees were all similar in design and messaging, and directly opposed 2018 Democratic and non-partisan candidates that had completed a Declaration of Candidacy and filed a Candidate Registration (C-1 report) with the PDC.  
  2. The messages in each mailer urged voters to choose a different "real progressive" candidate and provided the name of a purported write-in candidate for each of the five races targeted by the mailings, and each IE mailer included a statement of support for the purported write-in candidate that was attributed to Fuse Washington.  
  3. In each of the five mailers, the purported write-in candidate was not a declared candidate for the 2018 election,  did not conduct a write-in campaign, and instead had publicly endorsed and in some instances contributed to the officially declared Democratic or non-partisan candidate that the mailers opposed.  
  4. In 2018, Fuse Washington did not endorse or support any of the five purported write-in candidates and had in fact has officially endorsed the official Democratic and non-partisan candidates and published the endorsements in their Voters Guide.  
  5. The statements attributed to Fuse Washington in the IE mailers about the purported write-in candidates came from previous publications of the Voters Guide from 2015-2017, where Fuse had supported the purported write-in candidate in an earlier election cycle as a declared candidate and/or for election to a different office than the office that is the subject of the mailer.
RCW 42.17A.335 does not prohibit every false statement made in a political advertising, but, limits the alleged violations to defamatory statements about a candidate that are published with actual malice and cause an injury to a person's reputation. There are three very specific categories of violation under the statute that apply exclusively to candidates:  (a) False statements of material fact about a candidate; (b) False representations that a candidate is the incumbent in an election; and (c) False claims stating or implying the support or endorsement of a candidate when the candidate does not have such support.  See RCW 42.17A.335(1).  
Staff’s review of the matter has determined that the allegations in the complaints regarding false statements of material fact, do not constitute violations of section 335, within the specific categories defined in the statute.  The mailers do not include an express false statement of material fact about a candidate, they do not make false claims regarding incumbency, and they do not directly or indirectly falsely claim or imply that a candidate has the endorsement or support of a person or organization.  
Although it might initially appear that category (c) is implicated where some complainants have alleged that these ads convey to voters that the non-candidate “write-ins” have the endorsement of certain organizations, the statute applies only to claims of support or endorsement where the candidate does not have such support or endorsement.  The purported write-in candidates in these races are not, in fact, candidates, and therefore the statute does not apply.
Based on this information, the PDC has dismissed the allegations listed in the 45 complaints filed against Mr. Morgan; Send a Message PAC; Conscience of the Progressives PAC; A Brighter Thurston County PAC; and Real Progressives in Thurston County PAC, in accordance with RCW 42.17A.755(1).  
Although PDC will not be conducting a formal investigation into these allegations or taking further enforcement action in this matter, staff is reminding Glen Morgan, and the four political committees concerning the importance of filing timely and accurate reports disclosing committee contribution and expenditure activities in future years as required by PDC laws and rules, including registering as a single-year committee where applicable.  

 

Disposition: Case Closed with Reminder (Resolved 01/18/2019)
Date opened: 10/23/2018
Area of Law: RCW 42.17A.205, RCW 42.17A.335, RCW 42.17A.442, RCW 42.1&A.320
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