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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Brown says seat Harper, fix campaign law

OLYMPIA -- The winner of a disputed Senate election in Snohomish County should take his seat despite questions over how he won the primary, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said today.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt suggested Monday that Democrat Nick Harper not be seated until a court case over the primary is resolved, and offered not to vote as long as Harper was on the sidelines.

But that's not fair to Harper, who wasn't involved in the independent campaign fined by the state Public Disclosure Commission, or the voters of his district, Brown said. She wants the Legislature to consider changes to campaign financing laws that could head off such tactics in the future.

Read more about the controversy inside the blog...


Harper won the Nov. 2 election easily over Rod Rieger, who listed himself as a member of the Conservative Party. But the state Public Disclosure Commission said violations of campaign financing rules in the primary, in which Rieger edged out incumbent Democrat Jean Berkey by 122 voters, are so blatant they call that election into question.

The PDC has referred alleged violations by Moxie Media, a campaign consulting firm that ran both ends of the campaign against Berkey, to the state attorney general's office for possible prosecution. PDC staff contend that Moxie Media was directing an independent campaign to support Harper, for which it filed the necessary disclosure reports; but it solicited money from some regular Democratic sources, including unions and trial lawyers, who were unhappy with some of Berkey's votes, to run an independent pro-Rieger campaign. Moxie Media promised not to reveal the sources of the money being used against an incumbent Democrat.

She said she doesn't agree with the argument that the voters in the 38th were duped and didn't know who they were electing, and that Harper didn't know anything about the Moxie Media campaign.

The case isn't likely to go to court before the Legislature convenes and all newly elected senators and represenatives are seated in early January.

Brown argued today the Harper-Rieger-Berkey race in the King and Snohomish counties' 38th District was not the only one that featured "undisclosed independent expenditures paying for negative hit pieces and nasty attack ads." The 6th District race -- the state's first million-dollar legislative fight -- had an independent attack launched against incumbent Sen. Chris Marr from a hard to pinpoint source the day that ballots arrived in the mail.

That ad, sponsored by a group called Spokane Families for Change, got its money from Working Families for Change, which in turn got its money from the Senate Republican leadership PAC. Although the source of the funding was eventually revealed and the ad was rebutted, Marr eventually lost that race.

In King County's 41st District, Republican Steve Litzow has a 200 vote lead over incumbent Sen. Randy Gordon, and Gordon was targeted by a "shadow PAC" that hasn't filed full disclosure, Brown said. The state Democratic Party has asked the PDC to investigate Americans For Prosperity, Washington, but the Senate shouldn't refuse to seat Litzow if his lead holds, she said.

"If you start to go down that road, where does it lead?" she said.

Senate Democrats will consider legislation to clamp down on "shadow PACs" and change disclosure deadlines. They may propose tougher sanctions the state can levy against candidates or groups that violate the laws.

But unless a candidate who benefits from illegal campaign measures is denied a seat, some people argue that political consultants will view any fine as "the cost of doing business." Brown said she's not sure how to address that argument.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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