Thursday, September 25, 2008

Did Randy Unruh of the PDC pick Bellingham's Mayor?

Today is the day of the Realtor's Quality of Life PAC hearing.

I've enclosed the background materials for today's hearing below.

Enforcement Matter - Realtors Quality of Life PAC, Case #08-103
Report of InvestigationReport of Investigation Exhibits 1-16Report of Investigation Exhibits 17-43Notice of Charges

Enforcement Matter - Dan Pike, Case #08-102
Report of InvestigationReport of Investigation Exhibits 1-15Report of Investigation Exhibits 16-43Staff Recommendation

The above links can be found here:

It appears that significant "fanny covering" is about to take place in Olympia.

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. That report was pulled from the PDC site last May.

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 contributed $19, 038 to Mr. Pike's campaign and $12,874 to Sam Crawford's campaign. They also contributed $14,738 to Larry Farr's campaign, but Mr. Farr promptly reported contribution, as required by law.

These were local races -- and the Realtors in-kind donations represent a significant percentage of each candidate's total campaign donations. A fact that Professor Todd Donovan pointed out in his original complaint against Mr. Pike. Prof. Donovan estimated that 54% of Mr. Pike's campaign contributions (estimated total of all unreported contributions) were undisclosed before the November 6, 2007 General Election. A copy of Donovan's complaint can be found here:

In 2004, the Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit against an Anacortes Port Commissioner to remove him from office for accepting contributions in excess of the amount allowed by law. The dollar amount was $1,444 dollars, or 40% of candidate Pat Mooney's spending limit. The Attorney General's press release can be found here:

But that's not going to happen in in the Realtor Quality of Life PAC case.

In fact, the PDC refused to acknowledge that an influx of $19,038 during the last few days of the campaign had any affect whatsoever on the outcome of the Mayor's election.

However, 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."

The $19,038 reporting error, combined with the release of an e-mail written by Randy Unruh informing Pike (and the entire world) that all 67 campaign violation charges would be dismissed, represents, in my opinion, "unprecedented meddling" by a public agency in the Bellingham Mayor's race.

First, Dan Pike leaks Randy Unruh's e-mail to the media -- prematurely "clearing " himself of any campaign violation charges. Next, he contacts every media outlet and claims that he was a "victim" of a nasty, dishonest McShane supporter. (me). Meanwhile, thousands and thousands of voters are casting their ballots. Copies of Unruh's e-mails to the Pike campaign may be viewed here:

Second, a PDC staffer tells the Pike campaign it does not have to report a $19,038 dollar contribution from the highly controversial Realtor's Quality of Life PAC - in a community where voters historically make decisions about a candidate based on the source of that candidate's funding. Mr. Pike presented himself as a environmentally sensitive candidate.

The PDC discovers that an error has been made by a staff member, that the contribution in question -- is in fact an in-kind contribution. But no one at the PDC instructs the Pike campaign to report the Realtor's contribution before the General Election.

The three Realtor mailers were 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. Indeed, some of the Realtor mailers arrived in my mailbox on the same day as some of the Pike mailers. A fact that has been ignored during this investigation.

On October 19th, the PDC contacted Ms. Whiting from the Realtors Association and was told that the in-kind contributions were reported to Whatcom County candidates on October 16th, one day after the 21 day $5,000 contribution limit went in to effect.

Fully aware of the violation, the PDC did not attempt to stop the Realtors from mailing the campaign mailers, nor did the Realtors 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, Hence, Dan Pike and Sam Crawford received thousands of dollars of illegal support during the last two weeks of the campaign. Neither man was charged. Neither man reported. The perfect campaign caper.

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 coordinating with Chad Minnick via e-mail on the mailers, unbeknownst to Mr. Pike or herself.

Section 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.

Section 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.

Section 3.56 Mr. Pike had no contact with PDC staff regarding the Realtors expenditures on behalf of his campaign.

Section 3.57 Dan Pike's campaign manager, Shati Mookherjee, (sic) 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.

Section 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.

Section 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."

Section 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.

Section 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.

Section 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."

Section 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."

Section 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

Section 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.

Section 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).

Section 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).

Section 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).

Section 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.

Section 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."

Section 3.77 Ms. Whiting further concluded by stating, "I think the glitch is miscommunication between myself and 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."

Amended report of Investigation:
Report to Commission:

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