September 14, 2020

Emerging issues around digital political ads 

Commissioners heard an update about the work Vice Chair Fred Jarrett and Commissioner Russ Lehman are leading to research problems and potential solutions for the complex issues created by the rise of digital political advertising.

PDC staff members are consulting with researchers, political consultants, media, the digital ad industry and regulatory officials in other states to explore potential improvements to disclosure requirements around digital ads.

The first step is to discern what information is important to the public to learn from digital political ads, and who should provide that information.

A potential solution is a public digital political ad archive. But Jarrett noted that the PDC must “make sure we understand the problem we are trying to solve” before arriving at a solution.

August 28, 2020

The five-member Public Disclosure Commission voted unanimously Thursday to refer two 2019 complaints against Google to the state attorney general’s office.  

The complaints (PDC case documents here and here) allege that Google violated state campaign finance laws that require commercial advertisers to maintain records known as “books of account” for political advertising. Those records are to be made available to members of the public upon request, so that they can see who is paying for political ads. 

The complaints against Google have been under review by PDC staff. Executive Director Peter Frey Lavallee brought the cases to the Commission for review due to his assessment that “continued investigation of this matter will involve the expenditure of substantial resources by the PDC.” 

August 6, 2020

Commission fines former Olympia city manager 

In a 4-1 vote, the Commission levied a $10,000 fine – with half suspended – against former Olympia City Manager Steve Hall. The fine was the result of a 2019 mailer the city created and sent urging voters to reject Initiative 976, following a City Council vote opposing it.  State law prohibits the use of public resources to support or oppose a ballot measure. 

Hall accepted responsibility for the mailer as the ultimate decision-maker, and entered into a stipulated agreement with the PDC over the fine. Commission members debated whether responsibility for the campaign finance violation was more widespread. 

July 23, 2020

The Public Disclosure Commission today fined Olympia’s former city manager $10,000, with half suspended, for a 2019 campaign mailer that urged voters to reject Initiative 976.

The decision to fine former City Manager Steve Hall came on a vote of 4-1, with Commissioner Russell Lehman casting the dissenting vote.

I-976, which was approved by Washington voters on Nov. 5, 2019, sought to limit vehicle license fees and taxes. Olympia’s two-page mailer explicitly urged recipients to reject it, stating “Every dollar counts. Thank you for doing your part to fix our streets. Vote NO on Initiative 976.”

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.

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.

May 28, 2020

The Public Disclosure Commission has temporarily suspended online access to Financial Affairs Disclosure (F-1) reports until June 26.

After officials from Washington Technology Solutions (WaTech) and members of the Legislature raised concerns about whether the records could be a source of information for fraudulent unemployment claims, Chair David Ammons authorized PDC staff to remove the reports from the PDC website on May 24. Two days later, WaTech requested the PDC maintain the suspension until more was known. 

PDC staff did an initial analysis of traffic to the data to see if it could identify suspicious activity and did not find anything extraordinary.

April 28, 2020

Budget impacts expected 

Commission members heard a preliminary discussion about what to expect regarding COVID-19 emergency impacts on state revenue and the agency’s budget. 

Chad Johnson, senior financial analyst with the state Department of Enterprise Services, said officials will know more after the next state revenue forecast. 

He said the state Office of Financial Management (OFM) sent a memo to agencies asking them to look for savings in their current and upcoming budgets. But he said there had not yet been direction on how the cuts would be structured or how widespread they will be.  

PDC Executive Director Peter Frey Lavallee said he plans to continue making the case that the agency already operates efficiently, and only recently moved closer to being “right sized.” 

April 16, 2020

Campaign finance disclosure scored a major victory Thursday with the state Supreme Court’s decision to uphold an $18 million penalty imposed against the Grocery Manufacturers Association for concealing the source of funds fueling its successful 2013 effort to defeat a citizen initiative to require labeling of genetically modified foods.

PDC Chair David Ammons welcomed the news that the Court upheld a trial court finding that the industry group intentionally violated the law in trying to evade public knowledge of its members’ spending against Initiative 522.

“The court’s decision sends a ringing message to any group that might try to circumvent Washington’s campaign finance laws,” Ammons said. “Voters have a right to know who the players are in a campaign – whether they support or oppose a ballot measure. And this case demonstrates the Commission’s crucial role in ensuring transparency on the part of those who spend money to influence voters.

April 14, 2020

The Public Disclosure Commission welcomed the lawsuit filed against Facebook by the Attorney General’s Office today as a demonstration of the continuing relevance of Washington’s nearly 50-year-old campaign finance law.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson – acting on an investigation and referral from the PDC – filed the lawsuit, alleging the company violated a state law that governs sellers of political advertising in Washington state. 

The law – which applies to print shops, newspapers, TV stations and digital platforms, among other commercial advertisers – requires them to make information about the advertising available to the public within 24 hours of the ad’s publication. The lawsuit alleges that Facebook failed to do so.

April 3, 2020

Technology keeps PDC operating during emergency

Commission Chairman David Ammons said the PDC is committed to carrying forward with its essential business during the COVID-19 emergency.

He said meeting attendance -- including by the public, commissioners and staff -- was through remote computer or phone access only during the emergency.

 “We welcome public comment by email and telephone,” Ammons added.

PDC Executive Director Peter Lavallee said that the agency’s Information Technology team was able to work quickly to establish channels for meetings and other forms of collaboration.

He explained that as staff work remotely, use of cloud computing ensures public records remain within the custody of the PDC.

Commissioners heard other examples of how the PDC is working to accommodate filers and the public during the emergency:

March 6, 2020

Facebook complaints referred to Attorney General

Commissioners voted unanimously to refer two 2019 complaints over disclosure regarding Facebook political ads to Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

A decision on the matter was held over from the Commission’s January meeting, when a proposed stipulated agreement between the PDC and the company was presented.

The extra time allowed the Commission time to review documents and hear from the two complainants, who said Facebook failed to comply with state law. State law requires commercial advertisers to produce certain information about political ads on request.

One complainant offered written comments to the Commission and spoke at the Commission meeting. Commissioners also heard from an attorney representing Facebook.

January 10, 2020

Spokane attorney Nancy L. Isserlis is the newest member of the Public Disclosure Commission.

Gov. Jay Inslee appointed Isserlis to the Commission on Jan. 3.

“Nancy’s long history of civic leadership, legal expertise and her on-the-ground knowledge of campaign finance disclosure will be great additions to the PDC,” Inslee said.

Isserlis is a lawyer with Winston & Cashatt, a firm she rejoined after serving four years as Spokane City Attorney.  She has been in practice in Spokane since 1981, focusing on insolvency, restructuring and commercial practice.

She has chaired or managed dozens of campaigns, and has assisted many candidates with meeting disclosure requirements.

“I understand the important work the PDC does to make information available to voters so they can make informed decisions when they cast their ballots,” she said. “I look forward to assisting the PDC through a new lens as a commissioner.”

January 8, 2020

PDC forum will spotlight growing influence of online political ads in Washington state


Campaign finance experts, political scientists, campaign consultants, digital advertisers and others will gather Jan. 16 in Olympia for a public discussion on digital political advertising and how best to ensure transparency in this rapidly evolving area.

The Washington State Public Disclosure Commission is convening the diverse group as it examines the current state of disclosure for political advertising.

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.