The state Public Disclosure Commission has asked Attorney General Rob McKenna to prosecute a liberal political strategist accused of failing to disclose who paid for mailers that attacked a Democratic state senator who ultimately lost in the August primary.
On a 3-0 vote Thursday, the commission rejected a deal with Lisa MacLean of Moxie Media that would have involved her paying $30,000 in fines and agreeing she violated campaign contribution laws. The agency is instead asking McKenna to bring a civil claim against MacLean.
PDC spokeswoman Lori Anderson said that Commissioner Jane Noland specifically asked that McKenna “explore all remedies” including those available under a state statute that sets out when a court can overturn an election.
McKenna’s spokeswoman, Janelle Guthrie, said the attorney general’s office is still reviewing its options. In a written statement, she noted that there was no deadline in statute “for remedying this situation should further investigation warrant it.”
“For example, a Superior Court could order a new election in the future if it finds that statutory criteria for overturning an election have been met,” Guthrie wrote.
“Under state election law, the court is not required to reach that decision before the upcoming general election” Tuesday.
MacLean sent out a statement Thursday saying she was disappointed “that this matter was not fully and finally resolved” on Thursday. She wrote that she would work with McKenna’s office to resolve the case.
“Moxie Media has taken and will continue to take its compliance obligations seriously,” she wrote. “Going forward we will make our good faith, best efforts to comply with all PDC filing requirements.”
MacLean wrote that this “complex situation, involving significant legal ambiguities will not – and should not – be tried in the court of public opinion.”
An initial report issued by PDC staff last week said MacLean schemed to conceal donors for the mailers that urged voters to support a conservative candidate over Sen. Jean Berkey, D-Everett, in the primary. The report also found that actions by Mac- Lean and others involved with two political action committees she created might have violated several provisions of state election law.
Berkey was the only incumbent lawmaker to lose in the primary. She was targeted by liberal Democrats who thought she was too conservative. Berkey filed a complaint with the PDC after she lost the election, coming in behind Democrat Nick Harper and conservative candidate Rod Rieger.
MacLean was hired to run a campaign aimed at ousting Berkey and supporting Harper. That effort was supported by unions representing state employees, teachers and health care workers who donated close to $300,000, which went to the Stand Up For Citizens political action committee and paid for television commercials, mailers and phone calls, and visits to thousands of voters.
The PDC staff report said that MacLean created two new political action committee – Cut Taxes PAC and Conservative PAC – and got verbal promises from the Washington State Labor Council, the Washington Federation of State Employees and the Washington State Association for Justice to cover the roughly $9,000 cost of two mailers and a round of automated phone calls. But it said she didn’t disclose those pledges as required by law.
The report also found that MacLean promised her clients that they would not be connected to the effort until after the election.