On May 15, 2008, the Washington Public Disclosure Commission issued a Staff Report to the PDC Commission with a recommendation that the Commissioners report the following apparent violations of the Realtors Quality of Life PAC to the Attorney General's Office.
Despite testimony from Chad Minnick, a campaign consultant for the Realtors, advising Ms. Whiting of the Realtors that there was too much coordination between himself and the campaigns to change the mailers to Independent Expenditures, the Realtors went ahead and mailed the pieces, violating Washington's 21 day $5,000 contribution limit before the General Election. The Realtors donated $19, 038 for Mr. Pike and $12,874 for Sam Crawford. These were local races and the Realtors in-kind dontations represent a significant percentage of each candidate's total campaign donations.
PDC staff recommended that the Commission dismiss the allegations against Dan Pike. "Dismissal is appropriate because the Pike Campaign attempted to avoid coordinating its activities with the Realtors and RQL PAC and believed the expenditures to be independent expenditures. In addition, the Pike campaign did not report receipt of an in-kind contribution for the mailings based on advice it received from PDC staff." But the three mailers were almost mirror images of the mailers sent out by the Pike campaign, which indicates that there was significant coordination between the Realtors and the Pike campaign.
On October 19th, the PDC contacted Ms. Whiting from the Realtors Association and were told that the in-kind contributions were reported to the candidates on October 16th, one day after the 21 day $5,000 contribution limit went in to effect. But the PDC did not attempt to stop the Realtors from mailing the campaign mailers, nor were the Realtors willing to voluntarily reduce the size of the mailings to conform with Washington Campaign laws. The mailers were mailed, despite the Realtors acknowledgement that they were way over the $5,000 limit, and two candidates, Dan Pike and Sam Crawford recieved thousands of dollars of illegal support during the last two weeks of the campaign. Neither man was charged.
Here is the testimony from Mr. Pike and his campaign manager, Sati Mookherjee, who later admits in her testimony that a campaign staff person had been working closely with Chad Minnick on the mailers, unbeknownst to Mr. Pike or herself.
3.54 Mr. Pike stated that he had no contact with anyone from the Realtors (local or state) or either of the vendors regarding any mailings they were sponsoring regarding his campaign. He stated that his campaign manager informed him that the Realtors requested photos, and stated, "Which wasn't unusual for people to ask for that. There were different groups that endorsed me that wanted images. If anybody wanted images to promote me that was fine. So we didn't even ask about why people would ask for those, we just assumed, obviously, they were aligning with us and wanted to have some images to help my candidacy." Mr. Pike stated that he did not personally provide or have any contact with the Realtors in providing images.
3.55 Mr. Pike stated that he first learned that the Realtors were doing a mailing on the day the mailer arrived in his home mailbox.
3.56 Mr. Pike had no contact with PDC staff regarding the Realtors expenditures on behalf of his campaign.
3.57 Dan Pike's campaign manager, Shati Mookherjee, stated during her interview with PDC staff that Mr. Eskridge (Whatcom Association of Realtors) contacted her and requested photos. She stated that at that point, the campaign didn't have many pictures, so she sent him what she had. Mr. Eskridge contacted her again because he needed better images (higher resolution), so she directed him to a campaign volunteer who better understood computer images. She stated they had no further discussion at that point and she was not aware of what Mr. Eskridge would use the photos for.
3.58 Ms. Mookherjee stated that her next contact with the Realtors was when Mr. Eskridge called her to inform her that he had some "papers you guys need to file." She stated that she had a campaign volunteer retrieve them from Mr. Eskridge. She stated that a few days later, the treasurer, Ken Bronstein, contacted her seeking direction on reporting the content of the invoices. She stated that neither she nor Mr. Bronstein understood what the invoices were for and decided to contact PDC staff for help.
3.59 PDC staff records show that staff spoke with Ms. Mookherjee on October 18th regarding the invoices. Ms. Mookherjee stated that she told PDC staff, "I don't understand what these are or how to file them... Perry asked me for pictures several weeks ago, which I sent him but I never asked what they were for, he never used the word mailer."
3.60 After further discussion with PDC staff, Ms. Mookherjee stated that she believed that she had been advised, by PDC staff, that this was an independent expenditure and the Pike campaign did not have an obligation to report the expenditures.
3.61 Ms. Mookherjee stated that once she completed her contact with PDC staff, she believed the matter involving the Realtor expenditures (invoices) had been resolved because the invoices were referencing to an independent expenditure sponsored by the Realtors. She stated that she believed the mailer had already been delivered and that she had never seen it.
3.62 Ms. Mookherjee stated that several days after her contact with PDC staff, as she was reading old e-mails (e-mails she had received during the campaign but had not been able to read right away), she found an e-mail string between a campaign staffer and Chad Minnick (Realtor Campaign Consultant). She stated that she had been copied on the e-mail and not previously reviewed it. She stated that in the e-mail Mr. Minnick was requesting photos from the staff person and he referenced a plan to spend $12,000 on a mailer. Ms. Mookherjee stated that, at that point, she thought the e-mail string was regarding a new or additional project that the Realtors were also sponsoring. She did not understand that the project described in the e-mail string was the project referenced on the invoices received from Realtors Quality of Life PAC. She stated, "I thought there was some internal confusion. I thought, whatever had happened, had already happened two weeks ago and I was glad that I had never seen or heard of those mailers. I thought it was over, I thought it was moot."
3.63 Mr. Pike and Ms. Mookherjee both stated in their interviews with PDC staff that the Realtor sponsored mailers had no impact on the Pike campaign's mail plan. Ms. Mookherjee stated that their advertising plan had already been created by the time they realized what the Realtors were doing. Mr. Pike stated that he was closely involved in his own campaign's mailing plan, stating, "I was involved to the extent that the pieces all got vetted through me before they would be sent out. I was pretty involved all the way through."
3.64 Mr Pike and Ms. Mookherjee both stated, during their interviews, that the first time they saw the mailers was when they arrived at their respective residences.
Realtors Quality of Life Over-limit In-Kind Contribution
3.71 PDC staff contacted Ms. Whiting (Realtors) on October 19 and November 2, 2007 regarding the nature of the expenditures, attempting to determine whether it was an in-kind contribution or an independent expenditure. Ms. Whiting advised PDC staff that the mailers were in-kind contributions and stated that the candidates received the notification one day late, on October 16th.
3.72 During her interview, Ms. Whiting stated that after she was contacted by the PDC staff regarding whether the mailers were in-kind or independent expenditure, she asked Mr. Minnick if the mailers could be changed to independent expenditures.
She (Ms. Whiting) stated that Mr. Minnick advised her that there had been too much coordination between himself and the campaigns, so the mailers had to remain as in-kind contributions.She also stated that the mailers had already been printed and did not contain the proper independent expenditure sponsor identification language (top five contributors, etc).
3.73 Ms. Whiting and Mr. Wahl (Realtors) both stated, during their interviews, that there was no internal discussion regarding reducing the number of mailers to qualify the expenditures as in-kind contributions within the limits imposed during the 21 day limitation period (i.e. send out $5,000 worth of the mailers instead of the entire amount).
3.74 In response to PDC staff's request for a written explanation, Ms. Whiting provided a series of e-mails between herself and Mr. Eskridge (Whatcom Association of Realtors) in an attempt to explain their internal confusion about the projects. In an October 25, 2007 e-mail to Perry Eskridge, Ms. Whiting appears to have had some level of understanding that the candidates did not receive notification in time for the expenditures to qualify as an in-kind contribution not subject to limit.
(See Exhibit 15).
3.75 During the investigative interviews, PDC staff asked Ms. Whiting and Mr. Wahl to sum up the situation concerning Realtors Quality of Life PAC expenditures.
3.76 In her summary, Ms. Whiting stated that the mailers were in-kind contributions but, she stated, "Apparently that was not the understanding of Perry (Eskridge) or the campaigns. And so they didn't communicate the fact that they were uncomfortable to me, at least, because that would have been a red flag that maybe they don't know what's going on here."
3.77 Ms. Whiting further concluded by stating, "I think the glitch is miscommunication between myself and Perry...it wasn't anything anyone did on purpose. We really wanted to keep everything out in the open... we just sort of dropped the ball in communicating this properly to the candidates."