July 1, 2020

Financial affairs statements back online

After a temporary pause, the Commission voted to restore online access to Personal Financial Affairs (F-1) reports filed by elected and appointed officials. The reports went back online June 26.

Online access to F-1 reports was initially suspended May 24, following concerns expressed by state officials from Washington Technology Solutions (WaTech) and members of the Legislature. They had questioned whether F-1 records could be a contributing factor in future fraudulent unemployment insurance claims. Commission Chair David Ammons authorized the temporary suspension after hearing those concerns.

A majority of Commission members had voted May 28 to lift it, following a consultation with technology experts at their June 25 meeting.

Ammons noted that the Commission had received a letter from state senators asking that the online pause continue, as well as a request from a state representative and from the nonprofit National Institute on Money in State Politics urging that online access be restored.

An analysis of online traffic by PDC staff did not reveal suspicious activity. “We have no indication that the F-1 data, when it was online, was used for nefarious purposes,” PDC Executive Director Peter Lavallee said.

The F-1 reports – filed annually by candidates, elected officials, state agency directors, state board appointees and others – have always been available via public records request.  They remained so during the temporary suspension.

The reports first became available online this year. In 2019, after a months-long process to gather input from stakeholders, the Commission decided to provide the public access through the PDC website in recognition of its mandate to provide full access to information it collects. F-1 statements let the public assess whether officials’ and candidates’ finances create a conflicts of interest.

 

Commission leadership chosen

The Commission voted to continue under the leadership of current Chair David Ammons. Commission member Fred Jarrett was elected vice chair.

Ammons recounted achievements of the PDC, including the addition of new staff members in recent years and the passage of legislation that offered new tools for enforcement of campaign finance laws. He also spotlighted the Commission’s examination of online political advertising, including a conference sponsored by the PDC earlier this year that attracted experts from around the country.

He cited the agency’s successful transition to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for the PDC to continue to emphasize its essential role of fostering informed citizens.

“As we lean into the future, we are at a good spot,” he said. “We have a commitment to continuous improvement and reform.”

“I look forward to a new role, working with David and new challenges ahead,” Jarrett said.

 

Enforcement actions

On June 15, PDC’s executive director – with the concurrence of its chair – referred a case against Twitter, Inc. to the state attorney general for appropriate action.

The case was initiated after the PDC received a complaint on Oct. 30, 2019. The complaint alleged that Twitter did not honor a request to inspect the company’s books of account for political advertising.

In other enforcement actions, PDC staff closed a total of 14 cases between May 15 and June 16. As of June 17, there were 45 active cases.

See details about individual enforcement cases here.

 

Budget impacts

The Commission heard a report on how efforts to save state dollars in the face of declining revenues during the COVID-19 emergency will impact the agency.

Weekly furloughs during the month of July will result in a loss of about 250 staff hours per week. Plans call for agency for staff to remain working remotely five days a week, but there will be fewer staff working on certain days.

This will impact the PDC’s ability to provide customer service – for example, with more calls likely going directly to voice mail – and lead to longer case resolution times.

The combination of furloughs and managers forgoing planned raises will save an estimated $125,000.

 

Next Commission meeting: July 23, 2020