April 28, 2020

Budget impacts expected 

Commission members heard a preliminary discussion about what to expect regarding COVID-19 emergency impacts on state revenue and the agency’s budget. 

Chad Johnson, senior financial analyst with the state Department of Enterprise Services, said officials will know more after the next state revenue forecast. 

He said the state Office of Financial Management (OFM) sent a memo to agencies asking them to look for savings in their current and upcoming budgets. But he said there had not yet been direction on how the cuts would be structured or how widespread they will be.  

PDC Executive Director Peter Lavallee said he plans to continue making the case that the agency already operates efficiently, and only recently moved closer to being “right sized.” 

He said he will emphasize to both OFM and the governor’s office “how important it is to continue the tradition of clean government” along with the role the PDC plays in that. 

Other emergency impacts  

Staff reported that the PDC had received fewer Personal Financial Affairs (F-1) statement submissions than at the same time last year. The lower volume might be attributed to the introduction of a new electronic filing system, the elimination of paper-filed F-1 reports, and impacts from the COVID-19 emergency. Filing volume had been trending ahead before the emergency was declared. 

Statements were due April 15. To assist filers who might not be able to access information during the stay-home order, the PDC added a way to allow for submission of a partial report. Filers must amend their reports with the missing information after the end of the declared emergency. 

Training for candidates and political committees moved online, with a total of 61 attending virtual classes in March and April that outlined how to comply with campaign finance laws and how to use the PDC’s campaign reporting software. 

Court cases in the news 

Commission Chair David Ammons thanked the Attorney General’s office for representing the PDC in two recent high-profile court cases. 

One involved an April 16 decision by the State Supreme Court to uphold a lower court ruling that the Grocery Manufacturers Association unlawfully concealed the source of funds behind its successful 2013 effort to defeat a citizen initiative. The measure would have required labeling of genetically modified foods. 

The other involved a lawsuit filed against Facebook on April 14 alleging that the company did not adequately respond to public requests for information about political ads, as required by Washington state campaign finance law. The Commission voted in February to refer two complaints over disclosure of Facebook political ads to Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. 

Requests for filing modifications 

The Commission approved four new requests, granted three renewals and denied one other renewal request for filers asking for modifications to annual F-1 reporting requirements. 

Such modifications – which allow filers to omit limited information from their reports – can be granted when disclosure law creates a manifestly unreasonable hardship on the filer and the modification does not frustrate the purposes of the law. 

F-1 statements filed in 2020 are available to the public on the PDC website. Previous statements, as well as those filed recently by professional staff members of the Legislature, are available via public records request.  

The Commission decided to move the date for the addition of professional staff members’ F-1s to the website from May 1 to July 24 to allow those filers more time to seek reporting modifications. 

Research for political ad archive continues 

Following the PDC meeting, Commissioners Russell Lehman and Fred Jarrett, along with PDC staff members, planned to attend a virtual meeting of the Digital Transparency Task Force, part of the California Fair Political Practices Commission. 

The PDC is working to develop a digital political advertising archive for Washington state, and commissioners are eager to learn from the California group about similar efforts in that state. 

Enforcement actions 

PDC staff closed 17 cases between March 13 and April 13, 2020. As of April 13, there were 50 active cases. 

See details about individual enforcement cases here. 

Next Regular Commission meeting: May 28, 2020