Saturday, December 6, 2008

Public Disclosure Commission files complaint against Realtors, Rossi, McKenna and various Realtor committees

Vickie Rippie, the Executive Director of the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) filed a detailed complaint with the PDC , alleging numerous campaign finance and reporting violations on the part of Republican candidates, Dino Rossi, Attorney General Rob McKenna, the Washington Association of Realtors and their various political action committees.

Rippie alleges that the Realtors did not report $415,000 of political advertising expenditures against Governor Christine Gregoire. The complaint also alleges that the Realtors provided over limit in-kind expenditures to Rossi and McKenna for $498,000 and $29,000. Additionally, she alleges that Rossi and McKenna violated the law by coordinating fundraising with the Realtors.

There was a previous settlement with the Realtors in September, based on a complaint filed by Professor Todd Donovan, of Bellingham, in November of 2007, in which the Realtors were assessed a $130,000 fine for almost a million dollars of illegal expenditures between 2004 and 2007. The PDC suspended part of the fine, based on the Realtor's promise that it would follow all applicable campaign laws through 2011. The Realtors managed to comply with the stipulated agreement for all of one month.

Sadly, it appears that the PDC lacks the regulatory teeth it needs to stop flagrant abuse of campaign finance and reporting laws. It has become easier for PACs and candidates to pay a series of small fines than comply with campaign finance laws. After all, who actually believes that a $130,000 fine is a financial deterrent to an organization that spends over $4 million dollars on one campaign?

Goldy at declared it's time for someone "to go to jail for this kind of blatantly illegal electioneering." I agree. The only way to put an end to the flagrant abuse of campaign finance laws is to pass laws that will deter this kind of behavior in the future. (It's impossible to eradicate illegal behavior - but we can significantly reduce violations with increased fines and the threat of criminal prosecution or removing violators from office).

In 1972, the voters of the state of Washington passed an initiative requiring candidates to adhere to strict campaign reporting guidelines.

Over the last 30 years, the state of Washington has been recognized for its commitment to transparency and open campaign reporting. For a number of years, candidates and PACs mostly complied with the law. But in the last five years, we have witnessed a number of cases where PACs and candidates are hiding large monetary contributions from the voters until after the election.

Today, voters and the media attack whistle blowers for filing complaints to publicly expose campaign violations. Both voters and journalists are quick to question the complainant's motivations for filing the complaint, but appear to have little interest in the validity of the complaint itself.

Candidates who have been found guilty of violating the law do not feel that they owe the voters or even the complainant an apology when they are found guilty. Instead, they accuse the individuals who filed the complaint of having questionable motivations.

And, sadly, the voters appear to have bought into the notion that it is ok to break election laws to get into office.

If you value clean elections, call your state legislator and tell them to put some teeth back into campaign finance laws. We need larger fines, jail time for flagrant violators and rules that allow the PDC to remove flagrant campaign law violators from public office.

Perhaps the time is ripe for the legislature to consider public financing of political campaigns. article:

PDC Report of Investigation of first complaint against Realtors:

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