May 03, 2022

The Commission heard requests for modifications to filing requirements from seven officials or candidates who sought exemptions to providing certain information on their Personal Financial Affairs (F-1) statements.

Candidates and public officials report information about their personal finances, including business interests, to allow the public to discern potential conflicts of interest.

RCW 42.17A.120 grants the Commission authority to suspend or modify certain reporting requirements if it decides that the law would create a “manifestly unreasonable hardship” for the filer – provided the modification does not “frustrate the purposes” of the disclosure law. Regulations in WAC 390-28-100 include a list of factors that may be considered.

At the meeting, the Commission granted modifications for five of the seven requesters. Those granted modifications include:

Kim Plese, candidate for Spokane County Commission, asked to be exempted from disclosing customers who paid her printing business $12,000 or more during the previous 12 months from the start of her candidacy, as required by law.

She cited confidentiality agreements with customers and the recent sale of her business – which hadn’t occurred at the time she filed her modification request. She said she no longer has access to client information.

David Green, a former candidate for Spokane County Commission and county treasurer, asked the PDC to deny Plese’s request. He noted that U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has been a longtime customer of the printing business and that McMorris Rodgers’ brother is a Spokane County policy adviser. He said an exemption for Plese would prevent the public from understanding the extent of her business relationship with the member of Congress.

The Commission voted 4-0 to give Please a partial exemption. She must report only political campaigns and government entities whose payments met the threshold for F-1 disclosure.

Commissioner Nancy Isserlis, a Spokane attorney, recused herself from the Commission vote and the discussion.

Ann Davison, Seattle City Attorney, asked for a modification exempting her from disclosing her personal residential address on her F-1 statement filed during her candidacy last year and during two previous candidacies.

As an elected official, she falls under an exemption granted by law to all elected prosecutors that allow them to report a city or town and type of residence instead of the specific address of a principal residence. That exemption is not available to candidates for prosecuting attorney, so Davison was not able to use it until she took office.

The Commission voted to approve the exemption and directed staff to redact the addresses previously provided.

Two requests were denied, including:

Dr. Umair Shah, state Secretary of Health, asked for an exemption from disclosing his residential address, citing reports of threats to public health officials in the news media and in a survey published in a professional journal. He said he had been subjected to threats and intimidation.

But Commissioner William Downing noted that, under the law, Shah would need to present more than generalized concerns. Downing said he considers threats to public officials “despicable and reprehensible,” but that the value of transparency requires disclosure, unless there is a specific showing of a threat.

“With great respect and empathy, we have no choice but to deny this request,” Downing said. Commission Chair Fred Jarrett urged Shah to re-connect with PDC staff, provide evidence of specific threats and re-submit a modification request.

Expedited rule-making on last-minute contribution reporting

The Commission has proposed raising the threshold for accelerated reporting of large, last-minute contributions from $1,000 to $1,500, to adjust for inflation.

The proposal is being considered under an expedited process that would bypass public hearings. The Commission decided to use the expedited rule-making process partly because it had received public input on the matter during discussions of legislation proposed for the 2022 legislative session.

The proposal was published in the Washington State Register, kicking off a 45-day period before a final vote on the rule change can be taken.

The Commission is expected to consider adoption of the rule at its June 23 meeting.

Enforcement updates

PDC staff closed 18 cases involving complaints from the public and 31 cases initiated by PDC staff as of April 19. There are currently 28 active cases involving complaints from the public and 71 cases initiated by PDC staff that are scheduled for a hearing.

Fine collection

PDC staff briefed the Commission on payment of outstanding fines sent to collections.

The tally: $136,246 in fines had been placed with the state’s collection agency since February 2021, and of that amount, $15,345 had been collected. Also, at least $1.8 million in fines is pending as a result of Superior Court cases.

When the Commission issues a penalty for a violation, PDC staff sends invoices for payment at 30, 60 and 90 days. If payment is not received within 90 days, the amount is referred to the collection agency.

Next regular Commission meeting: May 26, 2022