Case #78954
Respondent name: Robert Gray
Complainant name: Brian Estes, Elizabeth Hartsoch, Bill McCallum

Three complaints were filed against Resident Samish/Robert Gray alleging the following violations: (1) RCW 42.17A.205, .235 and .240 by failing to timely registered and accurately file reports disclosing contribution and expenditure activities; and (2) RCW 42.17A.320 by failing to include the require sponsor identification or using a made up or fictitious name to sponsor an independent expenditure mailer opposed to City of Bellingham Proposition 2020-14, on the November 3, 2020 general election ballot.

An Initial Hearing (Case Review Status) was held on January 6, 2021, and PDC staff opened a formal investigation against Robert Gray/Resident Samish.  

On October 14, 2020, Robert Gray presented to the public an independent expenditure mailer that listed as part of the return address that the sponsor was “Resident Samish” with the address being 2350 Newmarket Street, Suite 101-264, Bellingham, WA. The independent expenditure mailer stated “VOTE “NO” on 2020-14” but did not provide any additional contributor name or address information as required for this type of mailer, or any of the required other information concerning the sponsor.   

On October 15, 2020, PDC staff contacted Lithtex, a printing business located in Bellingham, Washington, after reviewing the Resident Samish mailer the US Postal Service Bulk Mail Permit #114, and seeking the business name that was issued the bulk permit number in order to determine the name of the sponsor.  The email from PDC staff stated that Lithtex was a commercial advertiser and based on the bulk mail permit issued to Lithtex by the US Postal Service, the PDC was requesting Lithtex provide information about the sponsor of the Resident Samish independent expenditure advertisement in accordance with RCW 42.17A.345.

On October 19, 2020, Lithtex sent an email concerning the PDC inquiry and attached an invoice dated October 7, 2020, that indicated Robert Gray placed the order and paid for the Resident Samish independent expenditure mailer on that date.  The invoice indicated that Lithtex printed 32,000 postcards and mailed them out on behalf of Mr. Gray with a total cost of $8,104.25

On October 26, 2020, after contacting Mr. Gray by telephone at the number provided to PDC staff by Lithtex, staff sent Mr. Gray an email informing him about the complaints that were filed concerning the independent expenditure mailer, and making him aware of the C-6 reporting requirement. 

On November 1, 2020 Robert Gray filed a C-6 report and listing the sponsor’s name as “Resident Samish” and disclosing that a $7,887.35 expenditure was made to Lithtex on October 7, 2020.  The expenditure was for an independent expenditure mailer presented to the public on October 14, 2020 and made in opposition to City of Bellingham Proposition 2020-14, a local transportation ballot measure on the November 3, 2020 general election ballot.  The C-6 report was filed 17 days late, and two days before the November 3, 2020 general election

Mr. Gray stated he decided to use his own personal funds to make the independent expenditure mailer in opposition to the ballot proposition, since he felt it would cause existing traffic lanes in the area to be reduced and closed in what he referred to as “road diets” if the ballot measure was ultimately approved.  He stated he did not solicit or receive any contributions in order to make the independent expenditure, and that Resident Samish was not a political committee. He stated Resident Samish was a fictitious name that he made up and selected on his own, and he felt it was a catchy phrase.

On January 14, 2021, Mr. Gray completed a Statement of Understanding (SOU) acknowledging: (1) One violation of RCW 42.17A.255 for failing to timely file a C-6 report disclosing the independent expenditure mailing in opposition to 2020-14; and (2) One violation of RCW 42.17A.320 by sponsoring independent expenditure advertising using a made up or fictitious name during the 2020 election cycle.  He paid a $650 civil penalty in accordance with the Penalty Schedule adopted by the Commission for Brief Enforcement Hearings set forth in WAC 390-37-143, with $500 of the penalty being assessed for the violation of RCW 42.17A.320 and a $150 penalty assessed for the violation of RCW 42.17A.255. 

Based on the findings, and the fact Mr. Gray competed an SOU acknowledging two violations of RCW 42.17A and paid a $650 civil penalty, staff has determined that in this instance, no further investigation is warranted, or any additional enforcement action shall be taken.  The PDC has dismissed the three complaints filed against Mr. Gray/Resident Sammish in accordance with RCW 42.17A.755(1) and WAC 390-37-070.  

Disposition: Resolved through Statement of Understanding (Resolved 01/21/2021)
Date opened: 10/26/2020
Area of Law: RCW 42.17A.255, RCW 42.17A.320

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