Senate votes 46-0 to OK milder campaign reforms

March 3, 2011 

The state Senate unanimously passed a bill today that lets the Public Disclosure Commission impose fines of up to $10,000 for multiple violations of campaign finance law. The legislation also adds filing requirements for political action committees but backs off earlier proposals to severely limit donations made by one PAC to another PAC.

Senate Bill 5021 passed on a 46-0 vote in the Senate.

[Three members – including Democrat Jim Kastama of Puyallup and Republican Mike Carrell of Lakewood – were excused.]

The bill goes to the House where it faces an uncertain fate.

Unlike an earlier version of the measure, SB 5021 applies disclosure requirements to political parties, sponsoring Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, said in a floor speech.

And Republican Sen. Dan Swecker of Rochester said the measure is "an even-handed approach to improving disclosure" and improving enforcement.

The measure includes criminal sanctions for some violations – if the wrongful acts are intentional, according to an amendment from Republican Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver. Benton said the revised bill goes “a long way to making our campaigns more transparent, cleaner …” and to letting voters know who is paying for campaign materials.

The measure: * Requires reporting of “electioneering communications” costs worth $1,000 or more, down from $5,000, and it requires electronic filing by candidates or committees that expect to spend $5,000 or more in a campaign or spent that much the preceding year. * Requires that a PAC’s name include the name of the person or entity that created it. * Requires that a PAC has at least 10 donors of $10 or more each before it can donate to another PAC. It also bars an organization from creating multiple PACs that represent different sides of a campaign and bars any two PACs from having the same name but different purposes. * More than doubles the value of the PDC’s maximum fine to $10,000, up from $4,200 for multiple violations. (The PDC already now can levy up to $1,700 in fines for single violations, although it most frequently issues small fines or suspends them on condition of future compliance with the law). * Makes certain intentional violations a misdemeanor and makes false or forged filings a felony. Pridemore said people will find ways around the rules but this will “limit the risk” of violations and resulting deceptions of voters. Pridemore’s office issued a statement after the vote that said:

"Regardless of your party or ideology, I think pretty much everyone agrees that it's important for voters to know who's behind campaigns and how money is being used … In the past several years, we've seen a steep escalation of donations and campaign messages that seek to influence voters while masking the sources and agendas of the groups behind them."

Pridemore drafted the original bill after the Moxie Media scandal – in which the Democrat-allied political consulting firm was caught concealing expenditures through a confusing array of shell PACs and delaying reports of the spending.

The Attorney General's Office is pursuing sanctions in that Moxie case that could be in the tens of thousands of dollars. Allegations include the funneling of labor groups' money into ads promoting one Democrat, attacking incumbent Democratic Sen. Jean Berkey of Everett and promoting a rival “Conservative Party” candidate who beat out Berkey in the August 2010 primary.

Initiative promoter Tim Eyman testified against the bill in committee, arguing it will invite more litigation and limit First Amendment rights. Bill Maurer, Washington state director of Institute for Justice, said the original bill had constitutional problems with its limitations on speech and spending.

The national institute for Justice is a libertarian public interest law firm.

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