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New Washington state laws arrive with new year

Change ratchets up campaign disclosure reporting

OLYMPIA – A new Washington state law that makes it harder to obscure sources of money to campaign financing committees takes effect on New Year’s Day.

The bill imposes stricter requirements for campaign transparency by lowering the dollar threshold for reporting contributions. It also requires that names of political action committees include their sponsors, and strengthens the criminal and civil penalties for violating those provisions. It is one of a handful of new laws that take effect today.

“When voters know the source of the information they are being given, they can evaluate better the truthfulness of it,” said Sen. Craig Pridemore, a Democrat from Vancouver who sponsored the measure.

The measure was introduced in the Legislature after a case in the November 2010 elections when consulting firm Moxie Media used a slew of committees to obscure the source of its campaign financing.

In December, the firm and its partners, Lisa MacLean and Henry Underhill, agreed to pay a $250,000 fine and $40,000 in legal fees. If they comply with campaign reporting laws through 2015, $140,000 of the penalty would be suspended.

State election authorities said Moxie Media established two layers of political committees to sponsor $9,000 in postcards and robo-calls seeking to oust state Sen. Jean Berkey, D-Everett. Berkey, a conservative Democrat, was being targeted by labor interests, who preferred another Democratic candidate.

The mailings and calls were designed to help little-known Republican Rod Reiger. Berkey lost the primary election, and Democrat Nick Harper later defeated Reiger in the general election. Harper, who was unaware of Moxie Media’s actions, was sworn into the state Senate in 2011.

Also today, an aspect of a workers’ compensation reform bill that deals with settlements to hurt workers takes effect. During the last legislative session, businesses worked with lawmakers on a variety of changes to the system, with the biggest allowing the state or employers to offer limited settlements to workers that would lower payout costs over the long term. Those settlements can be offered starting today. Officials believe the changes will save $1.1 billion in potential spending over four years.

Another measure moving the primary election to the first Tuesday in August also becomes law. Previously, the primary was held on the third Tuesday in August.