December 30, 2019

Chair Dave Ammons kicked off the December meeting by giving a brief overview of what he said was a good year for the Public Disclosure Commission.

“We’re all so very proud and amazed actually with the progress that was made through the course of the year, bringing more tools and more capacity and more attention really from public, and the Legislature and the governor,” Ammons said.

Ammons cited a “great legislative session with good bipartisan support” for the PDC’s agency-request legislation to create more tools for filers to be successful and to make it easier for the public to access information. He thanked Commissioner Anne Levinson and PDC staff for their work to ensure its passage.

He also applauded the continued work to train and make room for the expanded staff. The PDC’s IT team, which alone gained four new members, moved into new space across the hall from the main office.

“It strikes me every time I look at IT, how critical it is to our success going forward,” Ammons said. “So much of what we want to achieve is technological — it’s access, it’s usability.”

It also was a year of building and strengthening the PDC’s partnerships with organizations that share the agency’s commitment to campaign finance reform and public information.

Ammons pointed to the Commission decision in August to offer its support for the goals of Seattle City Councilmember M. Lorena González’s proposal to limit contributions to independent-expenditure political committees and bar donations from foreign-included companies. The legislation is scheduled for a January vote.

The PDC also has engaged with the new Center for an Informed Public at the University of Washington. Commission members said they see a role for the PDC in helping to further the center’s mission to combat misinformation and promote an informed society.

The center, funded in part by the Knight Foundation, joins the interdisciplinary resources of both the UW and Washington State University in communications, law, technology and other fields.

Commissioner Bill Downing, who attended the center’s launch on Dec. 3, said the PDC can track center research and apply it to agency work, while also making PDC information available to the center and its researchers. Partnership with the center also gives the PDC a chance to learn from 11 Knight Foundation grantees across the country.

Coming up: Special meeting on digital advertising

The Commission talked about an upcoming forum on digital political advertising Jan. 16 in Olympia.

Digital technology has produced a rapidly evolving climate for political advertising that presents regulatory challenges, and commissioners want to hear from academic and industry experts on the subject.

The forum seeks to explore how digital advertising works, the value of public disclosure surrounding digital ads and the role of regulators. The Commission will hear from researchers and other experts, fellow campaign finance regulators, campaign consultants and representatives of digital ad platforms.

The forum, which will be a special meeting of the Commission, is set for 1 p.m. in the Helen Sommers Building. It will be streamed live by TVW.

Enforcement stats 

Staff briefed the Commission on recent enforcement activity. Between Oct. 22 and Nov. 25, the PDC resolved 101 cases and opened 96 during busy pre- and post-election weeks. Among the cases that were resolved:

  • 24 were closed with no evidence of violations.
  • 37 were closed with a reminder issued.
  • 10 were closed with a formal written warning.
  • 8 were resolved with a statement of understanding completed by respondents.
  • 5 cases were closed with the Commission finding violations, including candidates who failed to file their PDC candidate registration and/or their statement of personal financial affairs.

The remainder were closed administratively, including three complaints that were referred to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. Others were resolved with a request for a technical correction or were determined to be unfounded.

As of Dec. 4, there remained 143 open cases.

Case documents can be found here.

New year, new meeting dates

Commissioners set their regular meeting dates for 2020:

Jan. 23                   July 23

Feb. 27                   Aug. 27

March 26              Sept. 24     

April 23                 Oct. 22

May 28                  Dec. 3 (combined Nov./Dec. meeting)

June 25