June 7, 2019
A new state law means some changes for campaigns and others who file reports with the Public Disclosure Commission.
 
The PDC requested the legislation this year based on feedback from the regulated community and the public. Substitute House Bill 1195, passed in May, clarifies some areas of the state’s campaign finance and lobbying disclosure law, enacts reforms to make reporting easier and more useful, and improves the public’s access to information. 
 
Here’s what you need to know:
  • Reports must be filed electronically when the option exists. Electronic filing gives the public ready access to useful information. The PDC will notify filers as the electronic-filing requirement becomes effective for them. The executive director can make exceptions to the requirement if a filer requests a hardship exemption based on lack of technological ability.  
  • People running for office in jurisdictions that have fewer than 2,000 registered voters do not have to file the personal financial affairs disclosure (F-1) report. The previous threshold was 1,000 registered voters. (The exception, as always, is countywide positions.) This change extends the small-jurisdiction exemption to candidates and elected officials in an additional 160 jurisdictions.
  • State law allows the commission to grant exceptions, called modifications, to certain F-1 disclosure requirements. SHB 1195 allows the commission to extend modification to match the official’s term in office, saving filers from having to apply for a renewal annually when the reasons for the modification remain the same.
  • Modification applications made for personal safety reasons can be protected from disclosure if the commission finds it would present a safety risk to a reasonable person.
  • Pledges in the aggregate of less than one hundred dollars from any one person no longer need to be reported. This is a restoration of the law as it existed prior to June 7, 2018. 
  • Dissolution of a committee, which remains voluntary, is now easier with the elimination of the requirement that committees not close their bank accounts before dissolving. Treasurers had reported difficulty, due to many banks' policies, in keeping a bank account open after the committee had expended all funds to file a final report. 
Under the legislation, more changes to F-1 reporting will be coming in January. They are:
  • Judges, prosecutors and sheriffs, and their immediate family members, will be able to substitute alternative descriptions of their residential property rather than report the address or parcel number.
  • The dollar-code ranges used for reporting the value of compensation, real estate, assets and debt on the F-1 will expand to provide more meaningful disclosure. Currently, the top range is $120,000 or more. The new top range will be $1 million or more, and there will be seven ranges below that to provide greater specificity. 
  • Officials appointed in December will no longer have to file a F-1 report when they are appointed and another the following spring. Now they will be able to file one report in early January to satisfy both requirements. 
Because SHB 1195 took effect immediately upon its signing by Gov. Jay Inslee on May 21, the PDC acted quickly to put in place emergency rules to help implement the new law.
 
State law bars the Commission from further rulemaking before the November election. The Commission will seek comment on proposed permanent rules for this legislation and other new laws this summer and fall, with the goal of passing permanent rules in late 2019. 
 
In the interim, the PDC will publish guidance on changes to campaign finance law, including new sponsor ID requirements for certain political advertisements.