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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

PDC violations could void legislative primary

A Democratic political strategist active in shadowy independent ads in a Spokane legislative campaign faces court sanctions for campaign violations in an Everett primary race.

Lisa MacLean's tactics to hide who was contributing to efforts to sway the 38th District state Senate primary were so “reprehensible” that election may have to be overturned, the Public Disclosure Commission said Thursday. It voted 3-0 to refer the case to Attorney General Rob McKenna.

MacLean and her firm Moxie Media have set up a series of political committees this year to funnel money from unions, abortion rights groups and trial lawyers into hard-to-track independent campaigns all over the state, including two committees that attacked GOP challenger Mike Baumgartner this month.

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MacLean and Moxie also set up committees that funded separate independent campaigns for a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican running against Democratic Sen. Jean Berkey in the Aug. 17 primary. In e-mails gathered by the PDC staff, MacLean assured labor donors they could conceal the sources of money being spent for Republican Rod Rieger until after the Aug. 17 primary. Democrat Nick Harper finished first in the race and Rieger finished second, 124 votes ahead of Berkey. The source of the funding wasn’t revealed until mid-September.

MacLean used a process that has become common over the last decade in which political operatives set up a political action committee and collect money from big donors like labor unions, professional organizations or business groups. They set up a second PAC, which receives the money from the first PAC and buys a commercial or a mailer. The ad lists the two PACs as sponsors or donors, but not the original source of money.

MacLean and Moxie collected some $55,000 from several unions in early October for Care PAC, then moved most of it into Strong PAC, which sent out ads against Baumgartner. They also took $32,000 from the service employees union and two abortion-rights groups for Safety PAC, then moved $25,000 into Healthy PAC for anti-Baumgartner efforts.

Baumgartner’s opponent, Chris Marr, faced a similar tactic when a Senate Republican organization that collects money mainly from business and corporate donors set up Working Families for Change, which funneled money into Spokane Families for Change for ads against the Spokane Democrat.

Although the practice makes tracking campaign contributions difficult, it is legal as long as paperwork is filed on time with the PDC. MacLean didn’t meet filing rules on the campaign against Berkey and the commission rejected a proposed $30,000 settlement, instead asking McKenna to file a civil suit that could void the primary after the general election takes place.
In a statement released to the Associated Press, MacLean said she was disappointed the matter wasn’t resolved Thursday and will work with McKenna’s office. “Going forward we will make our good faith, best efforts to comply with all PDC filing requirements,” she wrote.

There’s no precedent for overturning a primary in Washington and no one is sure how that would affect the general election between Harper and Rieger, State Elections Director Nick Handy said. “I’m assuming…the court would provide direction. If not, we’d go back to the court and ask for it.”

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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