State campaign finance watchdogs handed out three fines Thursday – hitting a House Republican political committee, a Democratic county executive and a Seattle-based political advocacy group for immigrants.
The orders were all the result of agreements in which the accused admitted to the violations and the citizen-member Public Disclosure Commission voted to impose fines. The sanctions included:
• $3,000, half of it suspended, for One America Votes. The immigrant advocacy group relied on advice from an accountant and failed to register as a political committee. The group spent $134,143 in the July to December election cycle on legislative candidates and to oppose two liquor privatization initiatives.
• $1,700, $500 suspended, for the House Republican Organizational Committee, which recruits and supports Republican legislative candidates. The group sent $120,000 in surplus funds to the Washington State Republican Party in October 2010, but did not report it for two weeks until its own staff noticed the error. (The state party also is under investigation for failing to make a timely disclosure that it received the money, PDC investigators said.)
• $750, $500 of it suspended, for Snohomish County executive Aaron Reardon, who is running for re-election this year. He failed to report more than $8,000 in out-of-state and foreign travel costs paid by third parties in 2009 – until late April this year.
“I think the overall message was that disclosure is critical. That’s the mission of the Public Disclosure Commission to collect this information and make it available to the public. We need filers to do their part,’’ PDC spokeswoman Lori Anderson said after the back-to-back hearings and decisions.
Only a few other cases remain under investigation or are in court from the 2010 election cycle, according to Anderson.
“It is a fair result,” Reardon, a former state lawmaker-turned-county leader, said after the fine was imposed. The maximum sanction was $4,200 total for the multiple violations, but Reardon corrected the error on his own and had been public about taking the trips.
The original complaint against Reardon was filed by Snohomish County resident Becky Harper. It said he failed to list travel costs for several other foreign trade trips during 2005-’10. But the earlier trips were paid by the county as an ongoing expense, so Reardon did not have to note them on his personal-finance or F-1 form, according to the PDC.
In the case of his trip to the Mideast and to a forum in Washington, D.C., the county was never billed for its share of the travel costs. The Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce paid $7,780 in travel and entertainment costs for Reardon’s trip to the United Arab Emirates in 2009. He also made late reports of $575 worth of expenses paid by CG/LA Infrastructure, LLC, sponsor of an infrastructure forum in Washington, D.C., in 2009.
Reardon said the county now has a system in place to notify county officials if they need to report reimbursed expenses.
Reardon, whose name has been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor, said Harper is a Republican precinct committee officer and blamed her complaint on election-year politics.
In the One America case, leaders of the fledgling group sought out expert help and were referred to an accountant who talked to the PDC. But the accountant later gave incorrect advice, saying they didn’t have to register, One America’s lawyer, James Oswald, said.
Primala Jayapal, the group’s leader, told commissioners the group’s members had no prior experience in electoral politics in Washington and that the incident was “deeply embarrassing for me.”
One America raised $156,303, including $50,000 from a group called Protect Our Communities PAC, $46,000 from Campaign for Community Change, $38,392 from One America and $5,000 each from SEIU Healthcare 775 Northwest and United Food and Commercial Workers 21 PAC.
“It’s unfortunate they relied on some bad advice,” said Jennifer Joly, a commissioner. But Joly added the money spent was significant and the filing was more than 120 days late.
In the House GOP case, money came in the door late in the campaign cycle from candidates that had excess funds. A decision was made in a hurry to donate to the state Republican Party, but that information was not communicated properly to the group’s part-time treasurer, HROC political director Kevin Carns said.
“This was campaign chaos more than anything,” Carns said. HROC changed its rules so that two people now must sign checks and a certified accountant prepares paperwork filings.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688
CORRECTION: Fixes error in headline.