OLYMPIA – A $4,000 political mailer that two Grant County men developed to oppose a candidate for county prosecutor could end up costing them more than $450,000 for violating state campaign laws.
The mailer wasn’t very effective. The candidate they were opposing won.
The attorney general’s office filed a civil suit this week against former Grant County Superior Court Judge Jerry Moberg and Moses Lake businessman Ken Greene for violating campaign disclosure laws on a mailer that opposed Garth Dano just weeks before the 2014 election.
The lawsuit and a Public Disclosure Commission investigation contend that Greene, who owns the True Step shoe repair business, developed the mailer, which had information critical of Dano. The mailer was listed as coming from Grant County Concerned Voters, but no such organization ever filed with the PDC. Greene later told the commission’s investigators he didn’t think he had to file because he wasn’t a candidate.
Greene and Moberg both said they were friends of Dano, but didn’t think he’d make a good prosecutor. They initially told investigators that Greene paid for the mailer and Moberg, now an attorney in private practice, told him it would be defamatory if it was true and helped him find a printer in South Dakota. A check of bank records showed, however, that Moberg gave Greene $4,000 after the mailer was ordered, and Greene paid the printer.
Moberg later acknowledged through their attorney that he loaned Greene $4,000 to pay for the mailer. The loan was never reported to the PDC, and when asked for the terms of the loan, their attorney said it was an informal loan between two friends with no written agreement, and Greene is repaying it “with shoes, shoe repair services and acting as a chauffeur driving Jerry to appointments all around the state.”
State law requires that political ads carry the name and address of the sponsor, that anonymous contributions aren’t allowed, and that all expenditures of more than $100 by a campaign must be promptly reported to the PDC.
Greene told PDC investigators he thought he was only exercising his First Amendment rights to free speech, and didn’t need to register. He made up the name of the group, which has no other members, and didn’t use his name because he “wanted the attention to be on the message, not on the messenger.” Another campaign flyer in a legislative race was attributed to Grant County Concerned Voters, but he said he had nothing to do with that and didn’t want his mailer connected to it.
He used a printer in South Dakota because it could do the job quickly, not to conceal anything, he added.
The PDC received complaints about the flyer as soon as they started arriving in Grant County mailboxes, but with no report on file and no contributors listed on the ad, it took the commission’s investigators more than a year to get information from the printer on who designed and paid for it. Another year was spent in correspondence and conversations with Moberg, Greene and their attorney.
Dano won the election with more than 53 percent of the vote, unseating incumbent Angus Lee.
PDC staff recommended the commission refer the case to the attorney general’s office because it is limited in the amount of penalties it can levy. This week Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a civil suit in Thurston County Superior Court that allows for penalties of $10,000 each from Moberg and Green for concealing the $4,000 loan Moberg made to Greene, $10,000 each for concealing the payment to the printer, and $10,000 each for failing to register the committee, plus $10 a day for each day the forms were late. If the court finds those actions were intentional, it can triple the penalties, which would amount to more than $450,000.