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Some question if Spokane Valley business group crosses political line

The Spokane Valley Business Association has been around since the mid-1990s and has a history of being politically active.

Recent ads purchased by the association have raised some eyebrows. The ads, which ran in the Valley Voice section, criticize some City Council members for overspending on the firing of former City Manager Mike Jackson and giving away Community Development Block Grants.

Spokane Valley resident Gene Strunk used the public forum at a council meeting to criticize and question the motives of SVBA.

Strunk called SVBA “an empty shell organization” with a membership of maybe six people. It’s led by Diana Wilhite, who Strunk said hates the City Council.

Wilhite is president of SVBA but said she does not hate the council.

“The ads stated nothing but the facts of what has happened recently,” she said in a written statement. “We are not a political organization, although there has been discussions about forming a PAC within SVBA.”

The association is organized under IRS rules as a 501(c)(4), typically referred to as a “social welfare” group. These are nonprofit organizations such as civic leagues or volunteer fire departments.

Wilhite said the recent ads are informational, not political, and therefore the group is not required to file campaign finance reports with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, the nonpartisan state agency.

When Spokane Valley business owners Larry Wendel and Dick Behm Jr. and others formed SVBA 20 years ago, the group sued Spokane County to stop construction of the South Valley Arterial, a commuter road that ran south of and parallel to Sprague Avenue.

The county backed off and later proposed the Sprague Avenue Couplet, which SVBA supported.

When the push for Spokane Valley to incorporate gained traction in 2000, SVBA backed the effort.

The organization used to hold monthly meetings at the Spokane Valley Fire Department and host local and state elected officials and law enforcement officers for informational briefings and debates.

The group is not part of the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The group has 16 business members and three affiliated members, but it won’t reveal who they are because some members fear retaliation by the council members named in the ads, Wilhite said.

She added there hasn’t been much group activity in the past two years.

“We are getting things going again,” Wilhite said.


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