NOTE: This post was updated at 6:25 p.m. Feb. 6, 2013 to reflect that the Public Disclosure Commission provided the Spokane Firefighters Union with incorrect information about when it needed to file campaign spending reports.
Thanks to Proposition 2, Spokane’s special election on Feb. 12 is heating up.
Each side is accusing the other of stealing signs. One side is accusing the other of campaign reporting violations. The other is crying pettiness.
Accusations of sign stealing are hard to pin down and are so common that we don’t typically investigate them. Though there are notable exceptions.
We at Spin Control will make an attempt, however, to sort through the potential of campaign finance violations.
Spokane Citizens for Responsible Government, which supports Proposition 2, made several campaign finance allegations against supporters of the proposition in a news release earlier this week.
Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, who opposes Proposition 2, called their complaints “much ado about nothing.”
But there do appear to be violations.
Michael Cathcart, who is on the committee for Spokane Citizens for Responsible Government, filed a complaint today against Citizens for Democracy and the Spokane Firefighters Union with the Public Disclosure Commission. He is alleging that they missed reporting deadlines.
Cathcart said he filed the complaint out of frustration.
“It appeared to me that these groups were trying to make sure contributions and expenditures were not open to the public,” Cathcart said.
His complaint appears to be correct that at least some spending hasn’t been reported properly, but he may be incorrect about who’s at fault.
Most groups active in campaigns are required to report spending and contributions three weeks and one week prior to the election.
The first spending opposed to Proposition 2 was from Local 270, of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The group, which represents about 1,000 Spokane city workers, spent $500 on the signs, said Local 270 President Joe Cavanaugh. These are the “Keep Democracy” signs that have been up for at least a couple weeks.
That spending already should have been reported to the Public Disclosure Commission, but hasn’t. Cavanaugh said the state group that the union belongs to is in charge of reporting the spending. He said if there was a violation it would be fixed quickly.
Pat Thompson, of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, said that the spending will be included in the political action committee’s regular monthly spending report.
“Certainly there wasn’t any effort not to disclose this,” Thompson said. “We were following advice we were given by the Public Disclosure Commission.”
Lori Anderson, spokeswoman for the Public Disclosure Commission, said any spending by a political action committee on an election has different deadlines.
“Technically, they should follow the election reporting schedule,” she said.
The Spokane Firefighters Union later ordered another batch of the same signs for $350. However, those were ordered after the three-week reporting deadline and therefore didn't have to be reported until Tuesday (the one-week deadline). Anderson said today that the union still had not filed a report, but that the PDC likely was at fault becuase it provided the group incorrect information about when the spending had to be reported.
Citizens for Democracy, which was formed specifically to oppose the measure, appears not to have violated reporting rules even though it hasn’t reported any spending. That’s because it promised not to accept donations of more than $500 or raise more than $5,000. The group purchased signs with a raised fist labeled “Say No to Tyranny of Minority.”
The campaign later asked to change its reporting status so it could raise more, but the PDC didn’t immediately accept that request. Kris Byrum, campaign manager of the group, said Citizens for Democracy is now content to stick with the small campaign.
That means that Citizens for Democracy will not have to report spending or contributions to the PDC, though it is required to allow inspection of its books during the eight days before the election.