State campaign regulators on Tuesday announced plans to charge a lobbying group for builders with numerous violations of campaign disclosure laws but they dismissed the most serious allegation.
The mixed decision by Public Disclosure Commission investigators enabled each of two politically powerful groups - the Washington State Labor Council and the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) - to claim a partial victory against the other.
The commission staff told the four commissioners that it soon will charge the BIAW with exceeding contribution limits, filing false registration forms and submitting late finance reports. A hearing will be scheduled after the charges are filed.
“The PDC has confirmed what we said all along - that the BIAW’s massive political campaign violated the law and subverted the public’s right to know who was paying for last-minute mailings attacking candidates in the 1996 elections,” Rick Bender, president of the labor council, said in a statement.
But the building industry trade group noted that PDC investigators dropped the most serious allegation - that an internal entity within the BIAW operated as an unregistered political committee.
“The PDC had to stick the BIAW with something after spending thousands of taxpayer dollars, not to mention man-hours, on trying to prove the labor unions’ claims,” said Tom McCabe, executive vice president of the BIAW.
The PDC’s action stems from a complaint filed in July by the labor council, which often clashes with the BIAW over the building industry’s efforts to loosen building regulations and the state Growth Management Act, among other things.
The BIAW has suggested that the labor council was trying to divert attention to legal troubles by another labor group, the Washington Education Association. The WEA has been accused by the state of misusing and misreporting its own political expenditures.
After a three-month investigation, the PDC’s staff said it will dismiss the allegation that the BIAW’s Member Services Corporation is an unregistered political committee.
The corporation provides such services as workers compensation and health insurance to BIAW members. It also has spent at least $560,000 for political purposes since 1995.
But PDC attorney John Gerberding said making political contributions is not the corporation’s primary purpose. He noted that the $360,000 spent on politics in 1996 represented less than 13 percent of the corporation’s $2.9 million in total expenditures.