May 10, 2023

Commissioners discussed whether to reconsider PDC staff guidance on whether contribution limits apply when candidates transfer funds from a previous campaign to a subsequent campaign for a different office.

Longstanding guidance says that when a candidate transfers contributions left over from a previously completed campaign to a new campaign for a different office, the candidate must obtain written permission for the transfer from each contributor. But under that guidance, the funds could be transferred as a lump sum and not attributed to their source.

The question put to commissioners was whether those contributions authorized for transfer by the original contributors should be subject to the donors’ contribution limits in the new campaign.

Days before the Commission was scheduled to discuss the issue, Tallman Trask submitted a declaratory order petition raising some of the same questions. He said existing guidelines included “no requirement that the true source of the contributions be disclosed” when funds are transferred to a campaign for a different office.

He said the practice keeps the original source and amount of a contribution hidden, and that this practice doesn’t align with the true intent of the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

Derek Schoonmaker, an attorney speaking on behalf of the Hilary Franz campaign, echoed many of Trask’s arguments.

He added that the guidance “allows some donors to effectively give double the applicable contribution limit to a given candidate, or even more than double, if their contributions have remained surplus for multiple past primary or general elections.”

The Commission scheduled a special meeting on the subject for May 11, 2023. It also decided to place Trask’s petition for a declaratory order on its agenda for the May 25, 2023 regular meeting.

Commission issues fine to repeat violator

The Commission voted to fine Avrum (Alex) Tsimerman $5,000 for failure to file a Candidate Registration (C-1) and Personal Financial Affairs (F-1) Statement with the PDC on time, after declaring himself a candidate for public office at three public meetings in January 2023. Both the C-1 and the F-1 are due within two weeks of someone declaring their candidacy.

Tsimerman also maintains a website where he declares that he is a “2023 – Candidate for King County, Bellevue.”

A total of $2,000 of the $5,000 fine could be suspended if Tsimerman files all missing reports and pays all fines that are due within 30 days of the Commission order. This is Tsimerman’s third PDC violation.

In 2021, he was fined $250 for failing to file an F-1 report on time as a candidate for Seattle City Council, and in 2022 he was fined $1,000 for failing to file a C-1 and F-1 on time as a candidate for state Senate.

As of the date of the enforcement hearing, he had not filed reports or paid penalties from the two previous cases, nor had he responded to outreach from PDC staff.

Tsimerman did not appear at the hearing.

Declaratory order petition

In addition to Trask’s petition, the Commission also received a petition asking for a declaratory order regarding a requirement that political committees must meet.

The requirement says political committees must show that they have received contributions of at least $25 from at least 10 different registered Washington state voters within the preceding 180 days before they can contribute to a candidate running for the Legislature or other statewide office or to a recall campaign for such officials.

The petition came from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) State Council, which assists political committees sponsored by local and out-of-state union affiliates in meeting their legal obligations under the rule. SEIU said the affiliates “face substantial uncertainty” in determining whether they fall under the rule, and that the rule creates an ongoing burden.

The petition cites several prior court rulings on the subject, and asks the Commission to state that it will not enforce the rule in light of those court decisions.

The Commission took no immediate action on this petition, but decided to place the item on the agenda of its May 25, 2023, regular meeting for discussion and possible action.

Legislative update

PDC General Counsel Sean Flynn provided an update on new laws passed during the recently completed legislative session. They include:

HB1317: It adjusts the deadline for a sponsor of a grassroots lobbying campaign aimed at influencing legislation to file with the Public Disclosure Commission within five business days of initially presenting a campaign to the public, or within 24 hours if that presentation occurs close to the start of, or during, a legislative session. Previously, the campaign had 30 days to register. HB 1317 also requires additional information about the sources of funding for a grassroots campaign.

SB5152: It defines synthetic media (also known as “deep fakes”) in campaigns for public office and requires campaigns that use it to disclose that the image or sound has been manipulated. It also allows a candidate whose voice or likeness appears in synthetic media without disclosure within 60 days of an election to ask a court to enjoin distribution and seek damages. The PDC must adopt rules to implement the act, but enforcement is through the courts.

HB1715: It adds participants in the state Address Confidentiality Program for domestic violence survivors to the list of those who may use alternative descriptions for reporting to the PDC their personal residential property on the F-1 Statement of Personal Financial Affairs required of candidates, elected officials and others.

Enforcement stats

From March 16 through April 15, 14 cases resulting from complaints filed by PDC staff were resolved through a Statement of Understanding and 14 more were taken to a Brief Enforcement hearing where the Commission found a violation.

As of April 17, there were 26 active cases resulting from complaints from the public, as well as 60 active cases resulting from complaints filed by PDC staff.

Upcoming Commission meetings: Special meeting May 11, 2023; Regular meeting May 25, 2023