A complaint was filed alleging that the Democratic Association of Secretary of States (DASS), a political committee registered with the PDC, may have violated RCW 42.17A. by: (1) failing to timely register as a political committee; (2) failing to timely and accurately file reports disclosing contribution and expenditure activities; (3) failing to timely file Independent Expenditure/Electioneering Communications Reports (C-6 reports); and (4) accepting earmarked contributions and contributions from Foreign Nationals.
DASS is a national 527 political organization registered with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), “whose purpose is to support the election of Democratic secretaries of state across the country. The organization was formed in 2008 under IRS laws, and regularly files disclosure reports with the IRS and with state filing agencies -- as dictated by its activities.”
Stephen J. Kaufman, with the Kaufman Legal Group, a California law firm and legal counsel for DASS, stated that when DASS initially filed its 21-Day Pre-General C-4 report, the report only disclosed DASS’s activities in support of Washington State candidates. He stated that “in the good faith belief that this is what the law required. DASS’ total expenditures to support Secretary of State candidate Gael Tarleton in the amount of $204,150 represent only 16.1% of DASS’ over-all expenditures to date.”
Mr. Kaufman stated the majority of DASS’ funding is from individuals making small contributions, and that for January 1 through August 31, 2020 (September 1, 2020 is the date the Registration was filed) DASS “received 16,692 contributions totaling $629,161.79 (the average contribution being $38) from individuals across the country, representing 58% of the money raised by DASS this year. Of those, 1,321 contributions totaling $28,592.57 were from Washington residents.”
On October 27, 2020, DASS filed an amended 21-Day Pre-General Election C-4 report and the 7-Day Pre-General Election disclosing DASS contribution and expenditure activities undertaken from all over the United States, rather than just expenditures in support of Gael Tarleton that were disclosed on the earlier version of the report.
As noted by Mr. Kaufman, the expenditures made in support of Gael Tarleton only represented 16.1 percent of all expenditures made during the 2020 election cycle, and the remaining DASS expenditures included: (1) $317,400 for radio ads in support of the Democratic candidate for Missouri Secretary of State; (2) $120,000 in monetary contributions were made to Shamia Fagan, a candidate for Oregon Secretary of State; (3) $93,750 were made for digital ads in support of the Democratic candidate for Montana Secretary of State; and (4) $80,750 were made for digital ads in support of the Democratic candidate for West Virginia Secretary of State.
On October 25, 2020, DASS filed a C-6 report disclosing an $83,650 expenditure made to SKDNICKERBOCKER on October 8, 2020 for digital ads presented to the public on October 14, 2020, in support of Gael Tarleton. DASS was required to file the C-6 report within 24 hours of the advertisements being presented to the public or no later than October 15, 2020, and the C-6 report was filed 10 days late.
On October 26, 2020, DASS filed a C-6 disclosing a total of $118,500 for three expenditures in support of Gael Tarleton, that included: (1) a $74,000 expenditure made to SKDNICKERBOCKER on October 19, 2020 for digital ads presented to the public on October 20, 2020; and (2) two expenditures totaling $44,500 made to Sadler Strategic Media, Inc. for radio ads presented to the public on October 22, 2020. DASS was required to file the C-6 report within 24 hours of the advertisements being presented to the public or no later than October 21 and October 23, 2020 respectively, and the C-6 reports were filed between three to five days late.
Concerning the remaining allegations, Mr. Kaufman stated that once again as soon as PDC staff notified DASS about the complaint, they filed amended C-4 reports providing the required expenditure details for the independent expenditures made including payments to committee sub-vendors prior to the general election. He stated DASS has internal controls and procedures in place “to ensure that no foreign money” is received and added that when DASS processes contributions it requires contributors “to certify that they are U.S. citizens.”
Mr. Kaufman stated DASS solicits and accepts contributions from all over the United States and supports candidates all around the country, but added that the contributions solicited and received by DASS “are not earmarked for particular uses, and the organization does not solicit funds to support particular candidates.”
An Initial Hearing (Case Review Status) was held on January 6, 2021, and PDC staff opened a formal investigation against DASS. Staff's review and investigation found the following.
On January 11, 2021, PDC staff processed a Statement of Understanding (SOU) completed by DASS acknowledging two violations of RCW 42.17A.260 for failing to timely file C-6 reports during the 2020 election cycle, and paying a $300 civil penalty in accordance with the Penalty Schedule adopted by the Commission for Brief Enforcement Hearings set forth in WAC 390-37-143.
Based on this information, the PDC has dismissed the complaint in accordance with RCW 42.17A.755(1).