A Public Disclosure Commission staff investigation led to a $454,000 lawsuit filed today by the Attorney General's office.
The lawsuit alleges that former Grant County Superior Court judge Jerry Moberg and Moses Lake business owner Ken Greene intentionally concealed the fact that they were behind a mailer that targeted a candidate in the Grant County Prosecuting Attorney's 2014 race.
The mailer criticized Garth Dano, a criminal defense attorney who was challenging the incumbent prosecutor. It alleged Dano had “displayed a pattern of disregarding the simplest of laws and adult responsibility,” and urged voters to support the incumbent, Angus Lee.
The PDC launched an investigation after receiving two complaints from Grant County voters who received the mailer. The listed sponsor, Grant County Concerned Voters, had not registered with the PDC as required by state law.
The investigation into who was behind the mailers eventually consumed more than 200 staff hours at the PDC, largely due to the difficulty in getting the parties to respond.
In October 2014, investigator Phil Stutzman contacted the South Dakota direct mail business that produced the flier and asked it to identify its client. After numerous attempts over eight months including a subpoena, the company revealed that Greene had paid for the mailer and Moberg had worked on its distribution.
Under oath, both men said that Greene paid for the mailer with his own money. It wasn’t until September 2016 — after the PDC obtained bank records that showed Moberg had given Greene $4,000 a day after Greene ordered the mailers — that the two men acknowledged that the money for the mailers had come from Moberg. Their attorney claimed it was a loan but did not provide documentation to support that claim. PDC staff noted “what appear to be incomplete, deceptive or untrue answers to staff’s questions.”
Staff concluded that the men had violated state law by failing to register as a political committee and report campaign expenditures, and by attempting to conceal their identities as sponsors of the mailers. In March, PDC commission members voted unanimously to refer the investigation to the Attorney General after staff concluded the penalty could exceed the commission’s $10,000 authority.
Voters created the PDC in 1972 with the passage of Initiative 276. It provides timely public access to information about the financing of political campaigns and enforces Washington’s disclosure and campaign finance laws. It has an annual budget of $2.4 million and the equivalent of 19 full-time employees.