PDC won't investigate complaint by Buxbaum supporter

OLYMPIA - The state Public Disclosure Commission says it will not formally investigate a complaint from a supporter of Stephen Buxbaum, candidate for Olympia City Council, against incumbent Jeff Kingsbury. In the complaint, Olympia resident Hal Spencer claimed that a telephone "push poll" Monday was an unlawful advertisement that failed to disclose that it was paid for by Kingsbury's campaign.

In a letter to Spencer dated Friday, PDC assistant director Doug Ellis said the state laws don’t apply to the poll, only to “political advertisements that are conducted as independent expenditures.” Instead, the telephone poll was paid for by Kingsbury’s campaign, the campaign told the PDC, according to Ellis’ letter.

“I’m extremely pleased the PDC has vindicated us, and we can now move on and talk about the issues, which are jobs, public safety and preserving Capitol Lake,” Kingsbury said, “and I think that’s what’s most important in the election.”

Spencer said he wasn’t disappointed. “I respect their judgment,” he said of the Public Disclosure Commission.

Kingsbury said the poll went out to 400 randomly-selected voters. The calls were conducted by WinPower Strategies, a Seattle polling firm, said Michael King, principal of the company. Precision Polling, another Seattle firm, served as a vendor for the calls but did not create the questions, CEO Gaurav Oberoi said in a phone message.

But six people who received the calls, who were interviewed by The Olympian, said the poll was a push poll. It was, they said, more about painting Buxbaum in a negative light than gathering information. Kingsbury said it wasn’t a push poll and was about gathering information for his campaign.

According to the poll participants, it asked general questions about Olympia, then positive questions about Kingsbury. That was followed by negative questions about Buxbaum.

Buxbaum has denounced the poll.

“The reason I think it upset people was because the point, at least one of the points, was to research what negative comments about me resonated most deeply with Olympia voters,” he said. “Research for negative campaigning shouldn’t have a place in local politics.”

In the PDC’s letter to Spencer, it says that Oberoi, of Precision Polling, contacted the PDC on Aug. 19 “for guidance regarding sponsor identification in automated telephone polls.”

PDC staff “advised Mr. Oberoi that a poll which does not solicit votes, financial, or other support or opposition to a candidate would not constitute political advertising, and so would not be subject to the sponsor identification requirement.”

Even if a poll did include political advertising, “staff advised Mr. Oberoi that it would not be required to include sponsor identification if it were sponsored by a candidate’s campaign, although sponsor ID would be encouraged.”

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869