September 06, 2023

Commission Chair Nancy Isserlis opened the Aug. 24 regular meeting of the Public Disclosure Commission with an acknowledgment of deadly wildfires during the past month in Washington and Hawaii, as well as a loss closer to home for the Commission and staff – the recent passing of PDC compliance coordinator Ian Spencer at just 29 years old. 

PDC staff spoke of Spencer as a valued colleague and friend to many, and a loss to the agency. The Commission held a moment of silence for Spencer before beginning the business portion of the meeting.  

Agency prepares for short legislative session 

As fall approaches, the PDC is preparing for the short 2024 legislative session.  

Executive Director Peter Frey Lavallee reported that the agency plans to ask the Legislature for a funding package to allow for future meetings outside of Olympia, similar to the Commission’s trip to Spokane for its June regular meeting. Expanded outreach to areas outside Olympia is a key tenet of the Commission’s strategic plan.  

The agency is also planning to watch the progress of several bills that didn’t pass in the 2023 legislative session. The bills will enter the 2024 session at the latest stage that they appeared in the 2023 session. 

The first, ESSB 5284/HB1667, is legislation requested by the agency that would adjust several reporting requirements, such as adding a pre-election reporting date for campaign expenditures (C-4 reporting), at 34 days before the election in addition to the C-4 reporting dates at 20 and six days before an election. It also would require campaigns to identify political advertising at the point of purchase, seen as a critical element for digital advertisers who have said they need help identifying which ad buys they need to track for disclosure purposes.   

Another bill, ESSB 5207, proposes that LLCs share a contribution limit if the same individual owns or holds a majority interest in each entity. 

Finally, PDC General Counsel Sean Flynn noted another bill, introduced late in the 2023 session , would create a state democracy voucher system similar to the City of Seattle’s.  

PDC staff draft inflationary updates for lobbying reporting 

Flynn also reported that PDC staff are continuing to work on rulemaking related to lobbyist reporting requirements, and plan to have a draft of inflationary updates to lobbying reporting prepared before the September Commission meeting, in advance of a public hearing on the updates later this fall. 

The work will also include updating rules on grassroots lobbying to comply with newly passed legislation.  

The Commission concluded work to implement inflationary updates for candidate and committee reporting requirements earlier this year.  

PDC staff is continuing to do research to prepare for rulemaking related to Senate Bill 5152, which regulates synthetic media, more commonly known as “deepfakes.” The bill directed the PDC to adopt rules, but those rules will be enforced through the court process, rather than through complaints to the PDC.  

Repeat violators fined by Commission 

The Commission also heard several enforcement matters during the Aug. 24 meeting, involving filers with previous violations.  

In the first, Adam Smith, PDC case 138708, a candidate for council for the City of Spokane Valley, was found to be in violation for failing to file either his Candidate Registration (C-1) or his Personal Financial Affairs Statement (F-1) report for election year 2023 covering the previous 12 months. Smith has one prior violation for failing to file the same reports.  

The Commission imposed a penalty of $2,000 for each missing report, with $1,000 suspended on each provided Smith files all missing reports and pays his outstanding fines within 30 days, and has no further violations for the next four years.  

In the second case, Charles Mister Jr., PDC case 139594, a candidate for school director in the Everett School District, was found in violation for failing to timely file his Candidate Registration (C-1) report within two weeks of becoming a candidate. Mister filed the report before the Aug. 24 commission meeting and has one prior violation.  

The Commission imposed a penalty of $1,000, with $500 suspended if the missing report from the prior violation is filed and penalties paid within 30 days, and there are no further violations for the next four years.  

In the final case, Dustin Kraft, PDC case 140324, an elected official and candidate for fire commissioner in Clallam County, was found in violation for failing to file his annual Personal Financial Affairs Statement (F-1) for calendar year 2022. Kraft has one prior violation for failing to file his F-1 for calendar year 2021, which has still not been filed.  

The Commission imposed a fine of $2,000, with $1,000 suspended if the missing reports are filed and fines are paid within 30 days, and there are no further violations in the next four years.  

Enforcement statistics: PDC sees increase in complaint volume 

Between July 20 and Aug. 22, PDC staff received 92 new complaints from the public, representing a significant increase over the past two years.  

In the same time period in 2022, staff received 42 complaints, compared to 52 the previous year.  

Between June 1 and Aug. 22, the election year so far, the PDC has received 180 complaints, compared to 81 over the same time in 2022 and 105 in 2021.  

PDC Deputy Director Kim Bradford said the agency has one more compliance officer than it did this time last year, but is still being slowed down by the doubled volume of complaints.  

“We are having to do a bit of triaging,” she said.  

In the short term, Bradford said PDC compliance staff will have to set aside work to audit campaign contribution and expenditure reports. In 2020, the agency restarted a project last conducted in 2008 to audit the reports of pools of candidates in contested elections. While the effort has made headway, Bradford said it would need to be paused to allow staff to get through the higher volume of citizen complaints.  

The PDC also closed 32 cases from July 20 to Aug. 22. Seven were resolved with no evidence of a violation, three with a reminder, 15 with a formal written warning, one with a statement of understanding, five violations were found at enforcement hearings, and one was closed administratively.