Case #74473
Respondent name: Mike Vaska
Complainant name: Rachael Berg

A complaint was filed against Mike Vaska, a candidate for Washington State Attorney General in 2020.  The complaint alleged that the Mike Vaska for AG Campaign (Campaign) violated RCW 42.17A.240 by failing to timely and accurately disclose expenditures or orders placed for political advertisements undertaken by the Campaign for the August 4, 2020 primary election on the 21-Day and 7-Day Pre-Primary Summary Full Campaign Contributions and Expenditures reports (C-4 reports).  The expenditures or orders placed included more than $40,000 in expenditures for a television political advertising media buy for “advertisements that started running on July 13 on cable across multiple media market in Washington” and a mailed political advertisement paid for by the Campaign that was received on July 16, 2020. 

Supplemental complaint information alleged the Campaign also violated RCW 42.17A.405 for spending contributions solicited and/or received for the 2020 general election on 2020 primary election activites. 

Dan Brady, legal counsel for the Campaign stated that TV “order contracts with Comcast are booked with a Sunday to Monday run date regardless of the date the advertising is actually ordered, paid, and/or begins.” He stated that while the “Run date” stated July 13, 2020 on the “Order Contract” line of the invoice, the detailed summary of the media buy made “it clear that no advertising ran before July 15, 2020.”   

Mr. Brady stated the Campaign did not place a final order with Comcast until July 14, 2020, reiterated the Campaign’s TV political advertisements did not begin running on Comcast until July 15, 2020, and added the Campaign timely disclosed the expenditure to Comcast for advertising on the 7-day Pre-Primary C-4 report filed on July 28, 2020 as having been made on July 14, 2020.

Mr. Brady stated that the Campaign expenditure for the mailer was initially disclosed on the 7-day Pre-Primary C-4 report as an expenditure made on July 14, 2020 to Sermo Digital, but noted that after reviewing the allegation the Campaign received updated billing information regarding the mailing indicating an order placed should have been disclosed on a prior C-4 report.   He added the postage expense had been timely disclosed.

The Campaign filed an amended 21-day Pre-Primary C-4 report disclosing a total of $38,130 in outstanding debts and liabilities owed to Sermo Digital that included a $27,000 order placed on July 10, 2020, through Print NW for printing an estimated 164,754 mail pieces. 

On August 17, 2020 the Campaign filed an amended 7-Day Pre-Primary C-4 report disclosing the same monetary contributions received and expenditures made during the period, but added $37,857 in new debts and total liabilities, the majority of which were orders placed with  Sermo Digital that included $12,500 for online advertising for the period July 15 through August 4, 2020; $10,000 for online advertising with Pandora for the period July 27 through August 4, 2020; $3,000 for Digital Consulting; and $1,833 for email political advertising.

Staff reviewed the allegation that the Campaign spent general election contributions on 2020 primary election activites, and found: (1) the Campaign received a total of seven contributions designated for the 2020 general election totaling $10,750; and (2) as of  August 31, 2020, the Campaign had $35,067 cash on hand balance that included the $10,750 in general election contributions, verifying the general election contributions received by the Campaign had not been spent.  Mr. Vaska stated that the Campaign “always maintained a cash balance exceeding the total balance of sequestered General Election contributions.”

On October 1, 2020, the Campaign submitted an email stating all of the general election contributions that had been received were refunded, and that the Campaign reattributed one contribution made by joint check between the two spouses.

Mr. Vaska stated he retained two very experienced consultants for his Campaign and an experienced Campaign Treasurer to file the PDC reports, that he met weekly via Zoom with the team to discuss the Campaign which included PDC filing deadlines, and that PDC reporting requirements were also discussed by email.  He stated that due to “COVlD—19, our entire team never had the opportunity to meet in person after the campaign was launched. As a result, the campaign did not have the normal, in-person communications structure that would have provided me with a better opportunity to ensure full and timely disclosure by the campaign team, especially during the rigorous reporting deadlines in the three weeks before the Primary.”

Staff noted Mr. Vaska was seeking election to a high-profile office, and the typical campaign practices and procedures a Statewide candidate would engage in, including the communication and interactions with consultants, vendors and Campaign Officers and Treasurers were impacted due to Covid-19.  The late-disclosed orders placed were for a statewide mailing and digital campaign that was largely conducted remotely.  In addition, no evidence was found by staff that the Campaign exceeded contribution limits for the 2020 election or spent 2020 general election contributions on primary election activities.

However, pursuant to WAC 390-37-060(1)(d), the PDC issued a formal written warning to the Mike Vaska for AG Campaign concerning the failure to timely disclose orders placed with Sermo Digital on both the 21-Day and 7-Day Pre-Primary C-4 reports as required by RCW 42.17A.240.  The PDC dismissed the complaint in accordance with RCW 42.17A.755(1).

Disposition: Case Closed with Written Warning (Resolved 10/12/2020)
Date opened: 08/03/2020
Area of Law: RCW 42.17A.235, RCW 42.17A.240

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