Case #69071
Respondent name: Retired Firefighters of Washington
Complainant name: Helen Clarice Surprenant

The PDC received a complaint alleging that Retired Firefighters of Washington (the “Respondent”) may have violated RCW 42.17A.205 by failing to timely register as a political committee, and RCW 42.17A.235 & .240 by not reporting contribution and expenditure activities undertaken in calendar years 2015-2020 on C-3 & C-4 reports. 

PDC staff reviewed the allegations; the applicable statutes, rules and reporting requirements; the responses provided by the Respondent; and the Respondent’s reporting history to determine whether the record supports a finding of one or more violations. 

According to PDC Interpretation 07-02, Primary Purpose Test Guidelines, an entity becomes a political committee if they become a “receiver of contributions” to support or oppose candidates or ballot propositions, or if spending funds to support or oppose candidates or ballot propositions become one of its primary purposes. Under the “maker of expenditures” prong, an organization may be required to register as a political committee if one of its primary purposes includes political campaign activity, but an organization would not be required to register solely because one of its primary purposes was to attempt to influence state or local legislation (lobbying).

PDC staff found that the Respondent’s primary purpose is not to make contributions, but rather to keep its members informed about legislative activities that would impact their retirement benefits and pensions. The Respondent indicated that it receives its funding from 1) membership dues and 2) unsolicited voluntary donations from members, which are held in separate accounts. The membership dues are primarily used for educational and member outreach purposes. Members’ voluntary donations are used to finance lobbying activities and make a relatively small amount of contributions to candidates. PDC records indicate that the Respondent spends between 10-20% of its money on lobbying, as well as member communication and other issues. The majority of the Respondent’s activities do not appear to involve making contributions to candidates for public office or electoral political activity. The portion of overall spending attributed to lobbying and candidate contributions is relatively small. 

While the Respondent did make expenditures in the form of monetary contributions to candidates, the above findings suggest that it did not meet the primary purpose test and the activity was insufficient to trigger the registration requirements as a political committee. PDC staff determined that, in this instance, failure to register and report as a political committee does not amount to a violation that warrants further investigation and dismissed this matter in accordance with RCW 42.17A.755(1). 

Disposition: Case Closed with No Evidence of Violations (Resolved 06/25/2020)
Date opened: 04/21/2020
Area of Law: RCW 42.17A.205, RCW 42.17A.235, RCW 42.17A.240

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