A complaint was filed against Evergreen Progress (Washington State Republican Party) alleging a violation of RCW 42.17A.335(1)(a) by sponsoring political advertising, specifically an independent expenditure mailer that included a false statement of material fact about Sharon Shewmake, a candidate for State Representative in the 42nd Legislative District in 2020.
The advertisement sponsored by Evergreen Progress included a copy of a Sharon Shewmake Facebook page post which had a picture of a masked Representative Shewmake, with a group of masked protestors, and the caption stating “Keep your eye out for Young Activists of Whatcom County! They threw an excellent march yesterday.” To the right side of that post was the statement: “The group says our police work for a violent and unjust institution built on systemic racism.”
The advertisement included the question just under that at the bottom of the first page “Why is Sharon Shewmake marching to defund the police?” Finally, the top of the second page included a picture of a pair of hands holding up a sign in all yellow highlighted capital letters stating “DEFUND THE POLICE” and just below that the advertisement stated “Sharon Shewmake (D) failed to support our local police.”
In the response from Mark Lamb, legal counsel for Evergreen Progress he stated, “The mailer is neither defamatory nor libelous and thus the PDC has no jurisdiction over the political speech contained in it.” He stated that Representative Shewmake “called the march by Young Activists of Whatcom County “excellent” on Twitter as accurately depicted in the mail piece.”
Based on this information, PDC staff found no evidence that would constitute a material violation or require conducting a more formal investigation into the complaint or pursuing any enforcement action in this instance.
In order to meet the statutory definition of libel or defamation found in RCW 42.17A.335, a false statement about a candidate must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. The question “Why is Sharon Shewmake marching to defund the police?” did not constitute a false statement that she was in favor of defunding the police, and the phrase “Sharon Shewmake (D) failed to support our local police” was a matter of opinion.
The PDC has dismissed this complaint in accordance with RCW 42.17A.755(1).Disposition: Case Closed with No Evidence of Violations (Resolved 12/11/2020)