A state agency on Tuesday fined Gov. Gary Locke’s political committee a maximum $2,500 after the committee admitted breaking campaign finance laws during two out-of-state fund-raisers last year.
“I just don’t think we can appear to be soft on somebody” just because he is the governor, state Public Disclosure Commission member Jim Whiteside said before the panel unanimously approved his motion to impose the fine.
The first-term Democrat said the decision “brings to a close an unfortunate mistake involving volunteers who failed to follow complicated campaign laws.”
That defense, repeated by Locke’s lawyer in an attempt to avoid a large fine, won no sympathy from the commission. Members said the public suffered by being denied knowledge of the more than $5,000 in contributions until after the 1996 election.
“We just simply can’t keep rationalizing errors simply because there are volunteers” responsible for campaign finance reporting illegalities, Whiteside said.
Locke’s lawyer, C. James Frush, pleaded with the panel to impose a small fine of a few hundred dollars at most.
“There was not an intention to hide the identity” of contributors at the fund-raisers. “There not the intention to hide the amount,” he said, likening the campaign’s handling of the money to the “Keystone Kops.”
The commission action came weeks after the Locke campaign signed an agreement acknowledging errors in reporting of about $5,300 from 23 donors.
PDC investigators agreed that the errors were due to negligence, and said they found no intent to deceive the public. In fact, the investigators took the unusual step of commending the Locke campaign for its cooperation, which included hiring an outside auditor and supplying documents without subpoenas.
The investigation focused on the reporting of two fund-raisers held last October in New York City and Washington, D.C. It involved 23 of the campaign’s 9,117 donors and $5,335 out of the $2.4 million collected by the campaign, according to the PDC report.
The Locke campaign admitted it accepted cash contributions in excess of the $50 limit, failed to deposit the cash and failed to timely report the names and address of contributors, all violations of campaign finance laws.
Locke’s campaign consultant, Seattle-based FDR Services, said unpaid volunteers inadvertently collected the cash contributions exceeding the legal limit.
The cash wasn’t deposited in campaign accounts, as required by law, because the volunteers worried about the dangers of carrying cash in a big city. Instead, the cash was used to help defray the cost of the dinners, the campaign said.
The campaign asked the PDC last October how to handle the cash contributions and expenditures, but then failed to follow the commission’s instructions.
The errors were discovered earlier this year, prompting the campaign to return all cash collected at the New York event, as well as the single contributions over $50 collected in Washington, D.C. Corrected finance reports were filed last March.
Meanwhile, the PDC is looking into contributions Locke received from members of a Buddhist temple, including a $5,000 cash donation from the temple’s grand master during one of Locke’s four visits. Locke said he returned the money.
He also said he turned over all records involving a total of $13,070 he received during the campaign from members of the temple, the Ling Sheng Ching Tze Temple in Redmond near the Microsoft campus.
Temple spokesmen have said they did nothing illegal.