June 20, 2018

Inspections of campaign books in the days preceding an election have new ground rules.

Washington state law has long allowed members of the public to inspect a candidate’s or political committee’s financial records prior to an election. The inspections provide additional disclosure of campaign activity after a candidate or committee has filed its final pre-election report of contributions and expenses.

The Legislature passed legislation this year that made changes to the inspection requirements. The new law took effect June 7 and will affect inspections of campaign books before the Aug. 7 primary and the Nov. 6 general election. 

What the new law does

  • shortens the daily window for inspections to the hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.,
  • expands the inspection period from the eighth day before an election to the 10th day, 
  • doubles the time period that campaigns have to schedule inspection appointments to within 48 hours of the requested time and day, 
  • continues to exclude Saturdays and Sundays from the days when campaigns must grant access, and
  • eliminates the requirement for a campaign to designate at registration a location where campaign books can be inspected.

How the new rules work 

Given that the 10th day before an election falls on Saturday, the effect of the legislation is to provide a bigger window to make requests to inspect a campaign’s books while maintaining the same timeframe for inspections to occur. 

The requester must ask for an inspection via the email address listed on the candidate or committee registration filed with the PDC.For the inspection period prior to the primary, a requester can contact a campaign beginning  Saturday, July 28, to request an appointment on Monday, July 30 at 9 a.m. or later.

The campaign then must grant an appointment that is within 48 hours of that requested time – which, in this example, would be 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1, at the latest. The campaign must permit at least two consecutive hours for the inspection. 

The treasurer and requester must agree on a location for the inspection. If they can’t agree, the treasurer for the candidate or committee may make the books of account available electronically. Digital access is also an option for a campaign in lieu of scheduling an appointment. 

If the campaign's only copy of its books of account is maintained electronically with security protections, the person requesting the inspection must be given sufficient instruction to allow the inspection to proceed. 

For inspection requests received after 3 p.m. on the third day preceding an election (Saturday, Aug. 5, in the example above), the candidate or political committee need only make best efforts to accommodate an inspection. 

What’s required to be available

Campaign treasurers are required to keep books of account current within one business day. Books of account include a ledger, spreadsheet, or similar listing of contributions, expenditures, loans, debts and obligations to substantiate the information disclosed on the PDC campaign finance reports. 

If a ledger is not sufficiently kept, the books of account must include the underlying source documents such as receipts, invoices, copies of contribution checks, copies of cancelled checks for expenditures, notes or other documentation concerning expenditures, orders placed, and loans. In the absence of those type of source documents, the campaign or committee must make the check register available.

The candidate or political committee is not required to make copies of its books of account for the requestor or provide the name and address of contributors who gave $25 or less in the aggregate in total contributions.  

Videotaping, photographing or photocopying of the records is not required to be permitted but may be agreed to by both parties during or in advance of the inspection.

Questions?

This guide is intended as a resource to aid compliance with Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2938, and is not intended to replace applicable RCW or WAC provisions. The PDC encourages the public to consult ESHB 2938 and the emergency rules adopted by the Commission to implement ESHB 2938, which are available at our website: www.pdc.wa.gov/ESHB_2938_news
 
PDC staff also are available to answer questions. Email pdc@pdc.wa.gov with your questions or suggestions for how we might continue to improve our reporting guidance resources.