September 3, 2009 in Washington Voices

Group will register its political activity

Leader says he didn’t know sign distribution triggered state law
By The Spokesman-Review

The Spokane Valley Business Association planned to register this week with the state Public Disclosure Commission because of its opposition to disincorporating the city.

“I’ll get that done tomorrow,” association Treasurer Dick Behm said Monday after learning the commission staff considered registration necessary because of the “Support Our City” signs the association has distributed.

Lori Anderson, PDC communications and training officer, said the association needs only to register “and show the world they exist” unless the group raises more than $500 from one source or raises more than $5,000 from all sources, including its own money. If a registered group exceeds those limits, individual contributions above $25 must be reported.

Behm said only the association itself has contributed more than $500. The business group initially bought 400 yard signs with its own money, and since has purchased 100 more with donations. He said the whole expenditure, including sales tax and a $100 setup fee, is less than $2,200.

Behm said he was told the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce, which has helped distribute the pro-city signs, won’t have to register. The chamber has requested donations from people who pick up signs at its office, but the money is passed on to the Spokane Valley Business Association.

“So far, we’ve gotten $5,” Behm said.

President Eldonna Shaw said the chamber takes positions on issues but doesn’t endorse candidates or campaigns and doesn’t raise money for political causes. She said the chamber distributed the SVBA signs because the association is a chamber member and “we support what’s being done.”

Before contacting the Public Disclosure Commission after a newspaper inquiry, Behm said he thought the SVBA and the chamber weren’t required to report their activities because no ballot measure was before voters.

“We thought we were just making signs available for those people who want them,” Behm said. “I don’t have any problem with reporting it.”

Anderson said the commission ruled in 1980 that a group called Better Government is Needed had to report its efforts to incorporate Newcastle in suburban King County.

The commission acknowledged that an incorporation drive “is not a typical election campaign” because it can take months or years to produce a formal ballot measure. Nevertheless, the commission said “any organization seeking to place any question on the ballot is subject to the requirements” of the Public Disclosure Act, “however long it might take.”

By the same logic, Anderson said, efforts to keep a measure off the ballot also must be reported.

“They’re trying to influence a political issue,” she said. “I think they should have to follow the same reporting standards that their opponents are following.”

Two pro-disincorporation groups are registered with the PDC: Citizens for Disincorporation, which is distributing “Disincorporate Now” yard signs, and Friends of Spokane Valley, which opposes the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan.

According to the PDC’s Web site, Citizens for Disincorporation raised $16,117 by Tuesday and spent $14,081. Friends of Spokane Valley raised $10,500 and reported no expenditures.

Records show $7,000 of Friends’ treasury came from Crown West Realty.

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