November 5, 2019

Passing the gavel

Commission Chair David Ammons, presiding over his first meeting, thanked outgoing Chair Anne Levinson for her service.

She joined the commission in 2015. In addition to her service on the commission, Levinson – formerly the Seattle deputy mayor and a municipal court judge – has been a consultant for governments and courts on system reform.

Ammons retired in 2017 after a career in journalism and state government. He was political writer and columnist for The Associated Press for 38 years, hosted “Inside Olympia” on TVW, and served as communications director and senior policy adviser for the Office of Secretary of State for more than eight years.

Strategic priorities: replacing ORCA and exploring creation of a political ad archive

Re-imagining the PDC’s online filing system, known as ORCA – Online Reporting of Campaign Activity – is a top priority for the agency, staff reported to the commission during a discussion of the agency’s strategic plan.

ORCA works, but it’s showing signs of aging and can lack compatibility with more modern computer operating systems used by filers. The goal is to bring the system into the modern world – for example, by migrating to a cloud-based system that’s compatible with mobile devices.

“It’s more than a reporting system,” Executive Director Peter Lavallee told commissioners. “It’s a system by which campaigns manage all of their activities and report them to the public.”

Reinventing the system is a big task, which could take about 18 months and consume an estimated $1 million in PDC staff time.

“It’s not an additional cost on the budget,” Lavallee said. “It’s part of the workload that’s been planned out for the staff.”

The PDC is also preparing to launch a study of its website, with an eye toward rebuilding the site to make it more user-friendly.

Also possibly in the offing: a PDC political ad archive. Staff discussed potential first steps in determining the feasibility of building an electronic repository for political advertising in Washington state.

The idea of building an online archive where the public could view details about political ads is still in its infancy, but has increasingly become a matter of interest among commissioners.

PDC staff have begun researching the concept and hope to learn from other public agencies, including New York City’s Campaign Finance Board, which hosts an archive of political ads paid for by independent expenditures. Some other states are working to develop archives of their own, and Commissioner Fred Jarrett urged PDC staff to work with other jurisdictions to establish technical standards. The feasibility study will explore best practices and what’s being done in other states.

Draft agency-request legislation ready for review

Commissioners finalized specifics of the agency-request legislation they want lawmakers to consider when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

They include:

  • Reforming personal financial affairs disclosure (F-1) reporting to eliminate needless hurdles for filers, and expanding disclosure to help the public assess potential conflicts of interest.
  • Amending the false advertising prohibition to require greater disclosure when a sponsor cites past endorsements and advocates the election of candidates who are not seeking the office.
  • Empowering the PDC to meet emerging needs by giving it project-based spending authority for the Transparency Account that was created by the Legislature in 2018.
  • Allowing commissioners to participate in campaign activities they don’t regulate and to advocate or lobby on matters that don’t involve the Legislature or state agencies.

In the coming weeks, the agency will share its draft legislation with lawmakers with the expectation of having it ready for pre-filing in early December.

Permanent rules adopted

Commissioners approved the implementation of permanent rules pertaining to two laws passed in the 2019 session of the Legislature: SHB 1195 and ESHB 1379.

SHB 1195, the product of feedback from the regulated community and the public, included improvements to PDC reporting requirements, disclosure of personal financial affairs, and the citizen action process, as well as other technical clarifications of the Fair Campaign Practices Act.  

ESHB 1379 established new disclosure requirements designed to inform the public about who funds political advertising.

To assist compliance with the new laws, the Commission approved revisions to rules concerning financial affairs reporting, political advertising, campaign finance disclosure and enforcement procedures.

It will consider additional rules needed to implement the new laws at its Dec. 5 meeting. The rules are expected to become effective in January.

Lobbyists must complete training and update registration by Dec. 31

A new state law requires registered lobbyists to complete training on the Legislature’s code of conduct and related policies.

On Oct. 1, the PDC’s electronic lobbyist reporting system allowed lobbyists to attest that they have completed training.

As of Oct. 23, 250 of the 800 lobbyists registered for 2020 had already certified that they completed the online training.

The PDC created a video tutorial explaining how lobbyists can update their registrations on our website.

If lobbyists fail to complete the training and update their records with the PDC by Dec. 31, the PDC can revoke their registrations, rendering them ineligible to lobby until they complete the training and update their records to reflect that.

Enforcement case No. 54979

The commission found that Matthew Bishop, a 2019 candidate for Richland School Board, violated state law by failing to file the required statement of personal financial affairs. It was also noted that Bishop had two prior PDC violations – one in 2017 and another in 2018 – and that fines from those violations remain unpaid.

The commission assessed a penalty of $4,000, with $1,000 suspended provided Bishop comply with PDC reporting requirements within 30 days of the final order, pay the non-suspended fine and collection fees within the same time frame, and commit no further violations within four years.

Bishop did not attend the Oct. 24 hearing and had not responded to PDC communications sent by staff.

Enforcement stats

Between Sept. 17 and Oct. 21, the PDC resolved 64 cases. Among those:

  • 17 were closed with no evidence of violations. 
  • 17 were closed with a reminder issued. 
  • 11 cases were closed with a formal written warning. 
  • 4 cases were resolved with a statement of understanding.  
  • 4 cases closed as unfounded. 
  • 5 cases closed with the Commission finding violations.  

The remainder included cases closed administratively, dismissed with concurrence of the Commission chair, closed with a request for a technical correction or as a remedial violation.

As of Oct. 21, there remained 143 active cases.

Case documents can be found here.

In addition, it was noted that in the past month, the customer service team fielded an estimated 500 information requests for information and filing assistance through the agency online helpdesk, and at least an equal number of phone calls.

Important dates

Nov. 14: Compliance training and ORCA training for candidates and political committees

Next regular Commission meeting: 9:30 a.m. Dec. 5, 2019, Public Disclosure Commission
711 Capitol Way, Room 206, Olympia, Washington 98504