September 26, 2019

Changes coming to Personal Financial Affairs (F-1) reporting

The Public Disclosure Commission will make personal financial affairs disclosure (F-1) information from candidates, elected officials and others available online beginning in January 2020.

The F-1 is the only PDC form not currently available on the agency’s website. Come next year, new financial disclosure reports filed with the commission will be viewable via the website, while older reports will remain available by public records requests.

State law requires candidates, elected officials, state board and commission members, state agency directors, and legislative and gubernatorial professional staff to disclose personal financial information through the F-1.

The information allows the public to assess whether candidates and elected and appointed officials have conflicts of interest.

Commission members agreed to wait to place F-1 reports filed by legislative professional staffers online until May 2020, in order to give lawmakers a chance to consider eliminating those staffers’ F-1 filing requirements and adopting alternatives for them.

The commission’s Sept. 26 decision to proceed with making F-1s more readily accessible comes after months of work to gather feedback from filers and the public about F-1 information. Giving the public better access is one of three steps the commission is taking to make financial affairs disclosure more meaningful.

Among them is the development of a new F-1 electronic filing system to replace the 11-year-old existing application.

The new system, expected to go live in January, will continue the PDC's transition from form-based reporting to an interactive experience that helps ensure filers report the right information and the public gets useful information.

The new system will ask filers a series of questions, then guide them step-by-step through the form, depending on their answers. The form will use drop-down menus and other features designed to simplify the user experience, prevent errors, answer questions about filing requirements and clarify who must file, and when.

The commission is also working to identify areas where current reporting requirements pose needless hurdles for filers or don’t provide information the public needs to assess conflicts of interest.

Among the regulatory reforms it is considering:

  • Making legal requirements more accessible to the regulated community and public by updating and clarifying the statute
  • Simplifying reporting requirements for investments by changing how value and addresses are reported, and raising the monetary threshold for what assets must be disclosed
  • Aligning reporting periods to eliminate inconsistencies in F-1 information
  • Expanding disclosure about filers’ lobbying connections and business interests

Commission members are scheduled to review a draft of possible legislative proposals about the F-1 at their next meeting Oct. 24, 2019.

 

AFSCME and PDC reach agreement on contribution reporting violations

Commissioners accepted a stipulated agreement from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO (AFSCME) that included a penalty for failure to file timely reports disclosing $250,000 in contributions to Washington state political committees and AFSCME affiliates in Washington state.

The agreement also covered the union’s failure to file timely reports disclosing contributions received from AFSCME International into AFSCME’s segregated account from Oct. 1, 2014 through Aug. 31, 2018.

A complaint against the Washington, D.C.- based public employees’ union was filed in July 2019 by The Freedom Foundation. AFSCME acknowledged errors in failing to timely file monthly C-5 reports. Those reports are required of out-of-state political committees following any month they make contributions of more than $50 to support or oppose a Washington state candidate or political committee.

But, the union noted in the stipulated agreement that the 2015 and 2016 contributions at issue were reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and that the information was available to the public on the IRS website.

AFSCME corrected the mistakes after the complaint was filed.

The stipulated agreement approved by the commission  on a 3-1 vote imposed a civil penalty of $5,250, with $2,000 suspended provided AFSCME does not commit any violations within four years and complies with all reporting requirements.

 

Enforcement stats

PDC staff reported to the commission about enforcement activity for active cases closed during the period Aug. 13, 2019 through Sept. 16, 2019, during which the agency resolved 61 cases.

  • 25 cases were closed with no evidence of violations
  • 24 cases were closed with reminders issued
  • 5 cases were closed with a formal written warning
  • 3 cases were closed with violations found by the commission
  • 3 cases were closed with a completed statement of understanding
  • 1 case was closed with a request for a technical correction

Also during that time period, the staff opened one new formal investigation: Case No. 53454 involving a complaint that the One Washington Equality Campaign PAC, a 2019 ballot committee, failed to report in-kind contributions in the form of legal services and to report independent expenditures.

Documents for all cases can be found here.

 

Upcoming reporting dates

Oct. 7: Campaigns for the general election must report monetary contributions each Monday through Nov. 4. Weekly reporting for February 2020 campaigns also begins Oct. 7.

Oct.15: General election campaigns report any expenditures or in-kind contributions received between Sept. 1 and Oct. 14.   

Oct. 15: Lobbyists file their monthly expenditures reports

Oct. 15 – Nov. 4: During this period approaching the election, candidates and committees must file last-minute contribution reports within 48 hours of receiving $1,000 or more from a single contributor.

Oct. 26 – Nov. 4: Members of the public can look at campaign records and, in the case of mini-filers who have raised or spent no more than $5,000, see contributions and expenditures for the first time.

Oct. 29: General election campaigns must report expenditures and in-kind contributions for the period of Oct. 15 to Oct. 28