This case alleged that The Olympian (the "Respondent") violated RCW 42.17A.345 by failing to allow public inspection of commercial advertiser records, .335 by publishing false statements re: a candidate (e.g. editorials), and .320 for failure to disclose sponsor information on political ads.
PDC staff reviewed the allegations, applicable statutes, rules, and the response provided by the Respondent to determine whether it supported a finding of one or more violations. Staff's review showed that the Respondent is a commercial advertiser required to make its documents & books of accounts concerning political advertising & electioneering communications available for public inspection in-person during normal business hours or, if requested electronically, by email or online publication.
The Respondent published two advertisements for Linda Oosterman's campaign in October, 2018, both of which included sponsor identification as required under RCW 42.17A.320. Between October 19, 2018 and February 12, 2019, the Complainant sent three emails to the Respondent's employees and a message via its website portal requesting commercial advertiser records related to the Oosterman campaign ads, but never received a response. The Complainant indicated he visited the Respondent in-person on February 14, 2019 but was denied access to records, a charge the Respondent denied.
The Complainant failed to fully identify the records sought prior to February 12, 2019 and requested some information outside the scope of RCW 42.17A.345. However, the Respondent failed to respond to the requests, ask for missing information and timely fulfill the portion of the request that fell within the scope of .345 and WAC 390-18-050. The Respondent indicated its belief the such requests were required to be made in-person. However, PDC laws and rules do not specify how requests for commercial advertiser records must be made and WAC 390-18-050 allows the public to request records electronically, which can be satisfied by email or online publication. The Respondent provided the requested records to the Complainant by email on April 22, 2019.
This complaint also alleged that three editorial articles published by the Respondent between October 27 and November 9, 2018 contained false statements about him, in violation of RCW 42.17A.335, which prohibits a person from sponsoring, with actual malice, a false statement of material fact about a candidate for public office in political advertising or electioneering communications. However, WAC 390-05-290(4) and RCW 42.17A.005(22)(b)(iii) define political advertising and electioneering communications to exclude editorial content in a regularly scheduled new medium that is not controlled by a candidate or committee where payment for the space or time is not normally required. Subsequently, the editorials did not meet the criteria for libel and defamation set forth in .335.
Based on the information, the PDC found that no further action was warranted and dismissed the matter in accordance with RCW 42.17A.755(1).
PDC staff reminded the Respondent about the importance of making commercial advertiser documents and books of account open for public inspection during normal business hours for three years following the election to which they pertain. PDC staff clarified that this information can be requested electronically or in-person & conveyed its expectation that the Respondent make such information available to the public in future years in accordance with PDC laws and rules.
Case Closed with Reminder (Resolved 04/24/2019)