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Greater campaign information required by bills

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 12, 2018, 10:46 p.m.

Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, takes a phone call at right, Friday, June 30, 2017, after talking with Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, center, and Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, center-left, on the floor of the Senate at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Two new bills floated Friday aim to improve transparency in campaign spending. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – State residents would know more about parties who spend money for campaign ads under two bills heard by a Senate panel Friday.

One bill aims to improve transparency by preventing people or entities from hiding their contributions behind political action committees. Another tries to close loopholes that can be exploited by contributions to nonprofit organizations.

The first, sponsored by Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, would supplement existing laws that require the top five donors to be listed on political advertisements. Currently, donors can avoid direct reference by giving to political action committees, which pass those funds on to political campaigns. In such cases only the committee is listed on the ad.

Billig said the bill, which would require the top donors to be named, would help support a strong democracy by keeping voters well-informed on who is giving money to the PACs.

“(Entities) move the money from PAC to PAC, until the top five donors are not real entities, but PACs that have meaningless names,” he said. “It blocks the transparency that is so vital for our voters to be informed and for our democracy to be healthy.”

Jan Himebaugh, with the Building Industry Association of Washington, said it would be difficult to track PAC to PAC transfers of money and the additional information could cause space issues on mailings and ads.

“We agree that we shouldn’t be graywashing donors,” she said. “However, the (Public Disclosure Commission) website is available and open.”

The BIAW preferred an earlier version of the bill, which had proposed a limit on the funds a PAC can get from one entity to 70 percent of its total, Himebaugh said. But Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, pointed out that Himebaugh testified against that version when it came up for a hearing last year.

At the time, Himebaugh said the association was concerned about exceeding the 70 percent cap.

Billig said the bill would simply restore the original intent of the law requiring the top five donors to be listed.

“The bill would require the advertisement’s sponsor to look cumulatively at all the bill’s sponsors to the final PAC and list the actual top five donors in the advertisement,” he said.

Separately, the committee approved a bill with new rules for individuals donating to campaigns through non-profit organizations.

Currently, members of nonprofit organizations who support political campaigns can avoid disclosure laws by donating through the nonprofit.

The bill would require nonprofit organizations that set up committees and raise and spend more than $10,000 on campaigns to file reports with the PDC.

Under an amendment approved Friday, nonprofit organizations that set up separate political committees would be required to list their 10 largest contributors who give $10,000 or more.