Allen Hayward joins the Commission
Commission Chair Fred Jarrett welcomed new Commissioner Allen Hayward to his first meeting, following Hayward’s appointment two days earlier by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Hayward is a longtime former legal counsel for members of the state House of Representatives. He said he looked forward to listening and learning at his first Commission meeting.
His appointment brings the number of Commissioners to four; the PDC is awaiting the appointment of a fifth member.
Before his retirement in 2013, Hayward spent more than three decades as legal counsel for House Republicans. He lives in Tumwater.
Commission fines Tacoma Weekly newspaper $15,000
The publisher of the Tacoma Weekly newspaper acknowledged in a stipulated agreement that his publication violated state law by soliciting payments from candidates in exchange for promoting the candidates in the paper’s editorial content.
The Commission issued a $15,000 fine – with half suspended – for violations of RCW 42.17A.480. The suspension of half the fine is conditioned on Tacoma Weekly not committing further violations within four years and paying the non-suspended portion within 30 days of the Commission’s final order.
In August 2020, the newspaper sent e-mails to candidates offering a $2,500 advertising package that would include an editorial, a cover story and an endorsement by the paper, as well as traditional advertising.
The newspaper claimed an uncorrected version of the sales promotion flyer had been sent to select candidates and that it was corrected and re-sent. The corrected version contained an offer for a package that would include an “advertorial” ad and a meeting with Tacoma Weekly editorial staff, as well as traditional advertising.
“We made an error in a sales flyer, and we corrected that immediately,” Tacoma Weekly Publisher John Weymer said. “Because of our lack of knowledge of the law, we made a mistake.”
Two Pierce County Council candidates who paid for the Tacoma Weekly promotion – Javier Figueroa and Jason Whalen – paid fines of $150 each for failing to disclose sponsor identification on the front-page stories that they purchased.
Weymer said that the newspaper also wrote about candidates who did not buy an ad package.
He said he would accept the penalty, but that he considers the fine “severe” and “financially a big hit to us.” He said fear of future fines has prompted the newspaper to no longer accept political advertising.
Commissioner Bill Downing said that while the penalty might seem severe to the newspaper, there are larger issues of public trust involved.
“Two of the major ills in our society today are public cynicism towards politicians and towards the news media,” he said. “I think you’ve contributed to both of those societal ills.”
Drafting of new rules for political ad vendors underway
The Commission heard staff recommendations for possible commercial advertiser rule changes. Once proposed rules are drafted, they will be published and the Commission will hold a public hearing on them before deciding whether to adopt them.
Current state law requires sellers of political advertising to maintain records of each ad purchased and to make those records available to the public upon request.
Longstanding PDC rules have governed what kinds of information sellers must maintain. In 2018, the Commission updated rules to reflect the increasing use of social media by political campaigns.
But as the digital advertising environment continued to evolve, PDC staff undertook a study of the industry and sought public comment on potential rule changes. Staff outlined recommendations based on its own research and on public comments – many of them heard at the August Commission meeting.
Staff recommendations heard at this meeting:
- Allow reasonable additional time for sellers of commercial advertising to respond to a request if a candidate or committee does not identify an ad as political advertising.
Current rules say the information about an ad must be made available to a requester within 24 hours of the time an ad is published. Staff recommended that vendors be given some additional time to respond in cases where a vendor requests that a sponsor indicate whether an ad is political, but the sponsor fails to identify its ad correctly.
- Maintain current categories of detail about political ads that vendors must retain, with some possible minor adjustments.
The 2018 rule change required sellers of digital political ads to retain some of the same kinds of information maintained by others, such as printers and broadcasters. But they also said digital ad vendors must maintain records of demographic information about targeted audiences and audiences reached, as well as total number of impressions.
Staff recommended continuing the disclosure of demographic information, but added that the Commission may want to consider how that information is defined.
Other questions the Commission may explore:
- How ad sellers should maintain copies of political ads – including dynamic ads that customize information for people based on their interests and online actions.
- How reporting by campaigns could, in the future, support commercial advertisers reporting
Between Aug. 17 and Sept. 14, PDC staff closed 30 cases that stemmed from complaints filed by members of the public and 180 cases that were part of a PDC staff enforcement effort involving officials who failed to file a Personal Financial Affairs Statement (F-1) on time.
There were 44 active cases as of Sept. 15.
Next Commission meeting: Oct. 28, 2021