June 24, 2020

Emergency rules govern foreign involvement in financing campaigns

 

The Commission adopted emergency rules to implement a new state law governing foreign involvement in financing campaigns in Washington state.

The law, Substitute Senate Bill 6152, was approved during the 2020 session of the Legislature with an effective date of June 11, 2020. The PDC’s emergency rules take effect the same date.

The rules apply through the 2020 election cycle. The Commission received public comment on the emergency rules, and plans to include additional opportunities for the public to comment before it adopts permanent rules this fall.

The new law states that no contribution, expenditure, political advertising or electioneering communication may be made or sponsored by a foreign national, financed in any part by a foreign national or have a foreign national involved in decision-making in any way.

Campaigns must collect a statement from businesses, associations, organizations, unions and other groups certifying that the contributions they make do not include foreign national funding or involvement.

The law does not apply to contributions from individuals.

More details for campaigns on how the new law and emergency rules apply is available on the PDC website.

 

Financial affairs records placed offline temporarily

 

Members of the Commission voted 4-1 to continue a pause in online access to Personal Financial Affairs Disclosure (F-1) statements until June 26.

They voted to restore access one day after their scheduled June 25 meeting, where they plan to consult with state cybersecurity experts and PDC staff. In the meantime, the reports —filed annually by candidates, elected officials, state agency directors, state board appointees and others — have remained available via public records requests.

Online access to the reports was initially removed May 24, days before the Commission’s regular meeting on May 28. The action was prompted by state officials from Washington Technology Solutions (WaTech) and members of the Legislature who raised concerns about whether the records could be a source of fraudulent unemployment claims. Commission Chair David Ammons authorized the initial suspension after hearing those concerns, but a majority of Commission members voted to lift it following their planned consultation with technology experts.

Ammons cast the dissenting vote, citing his concern that a month’s pause might not be enough time for WaTech and PDC staff to assess potential vulnerabilities.

An initial analysis by PDC staff did not reveal suspicious activity.

The reports, which are public records, first became available online this year. In 2019, 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’ finances create a conflict of interest.

 

Budget

 

All state agencies were asked to submit plans envisioning 15-percent budget cuts, in anticipation of falling revenues stemming from the COVID-19 emergency. For the PDC, that amounts to $818,000.

PDC Executive Director Peter Lavallee told the Commission that cuts at that level — which have not been mandated — would substantially impact the agency, and a loss of positions could potentially erase recent gains made in lowering the PDC’s case backlog.

He also noted that the PDC anticipates underspending its budget for the fiscal year that is drawing to a close.

 

Enforcement actions

  • The Commission heard a request for reconsideration of an enforcement action against the National Utility Contractors Association. The respondent explained that there was outdated contact information on file and, when contact was made, immediately filed missing reports. The Commission voted to vacate the initial order and rescind the fine assessed at a February hearing.
  • The Commission found that Our Olympic Communities Enterprise Washington failed to file timely reports of Independent Expenditures (C-6 reports) disclosing $151,722.81 in committee expenditures made in the 2018 race for the 35th Legislative District Senate seat. Expenditures were made in support of Sen. Tim Sheldon and in opposition to challenger Irene Bowling. The committee was ordered to pay a fine of $14,000, with $7,000 suspended provided there are no further violations within four years and the fine is paid within 30 days. The committee will also receive a written warning mandating that it fully identify its top five contributors and provide required sponsor identification on future political advertising, independent expenditures or electioneering communications and that it file timely reports in accordance with PDC laws and rules.
  • In other enforcement actions, the Commission learned that PDC staff closed a total of 14 cases between April 14 and May 20, including nine that were resolved through a Statement of Understanding in which respondents acknowledged violations. As of May 20, there were 42 active cases. 

See details about individual enforcement cases here.

 

Next regular Commission meeting: June 25, 2020