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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Sunday Spin 2: Initiative petitions as campaign ads

By law, an initiative petition must contain that ballot measure’s title, summary and text, plus 20 lines for voters to sign. 

If the petition contains other information, such as claims about the wondrous benefits of enacting such a measure or castigations of opponents, it probably should also list the top five contributors to the campaign at the time the petition was printed.

That’s the informal opinion of Assistant Attorney General Jeff Even, responding to a request in April from Sen. Pam Roach. The Sumner Republican was incensed that when sponsors of the initiative to overturn the transgender bathroom rule asked the Public Disclosure Commission if they were required to list the top donors on their petitions, they were told they should.

The question had never come up before, and Roach fired off an angry request for an opinion, likely hoping the AG’s office would tell the commission to back off.

Instead, Even said if the petitions carry those extra “appeals” for support, as many do, they could legally be considered a form of mass communication that needs to list the top donors. Courts could disagree with his informal opinion, he said, and the Secretary of State couldn’t reject petitions just because they didn’t list donors. It would be up to the PDC to investigate if someone filed a complaint.

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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