OLYMPIA – Supporters of a conservative Democratic state senator who crossed the aisle to help form a mostly Republican majority in that chamber charged Tuesday that he is a victim of a group that is violating campaign finance rules in his re-election bid against another Democrat.
Sen. Tim Sheldon, of Potlatch, is running against Democrat Irene Bowling in the 35th District, which includes Mason County and parts of Thurston and Kitsap counties.
At a news conference held in the state Supreme Court lobby, Sheldon was joined by several Republican supporters, including the chairwoman of the state Republican Party, Susan Hutchison, who said the group was attempting to suppress the Republican vote.
Voters in the district are receiving opposing fliers that are funded by groups that are affiliated but that take different sides when addressing Sheldon’s stance on issues like abortion, health care and immigrant tuition.
For example, one flier, sent out by a local group supported by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, Senate Democrats and unions, criticizes Sheldon for his stance on abortion rights. However, an alternate flier, listed as being paid for by Washington, D.C.-based American Values First, lauds him for his vote on a state budget that included funding for Planned Parenthood, and states “Protect Reproductive Freedom! Reelect Democrat Tim Sheldon.”
The Executive Director of the DLCC, Michael Sargeant, is also president of American Values First.
Sheldon’s supporters are asking both the Public Disclosure Commission and the Mason County Prosecutor’s Office to investigate.
Sheldon and his supporters say American Values First is running afoul of state campaign finance laws by not registering with the state as a political action committee, and by not disclosing its donors, among other things.
“The entire foundation of campaign finance law in our state is based on the idea of transparency and honesty,” said Mark Lamb, an attorney for the Senate Republican Campaign Committee. “The citizens of Washington state have a right to know who pays for our elections.”
Bill Burke, a spokesman for American Values First, said in an email that the group is a social welfare organization, not a political committee, and that it has followed all required laws.
As for the content of the fliers, Burke wrote that his group “agrees with Sen. Sheldon’s past votes seeking justice for immigrants, expansion of Obamacare, and women’s reproductive freedom.”
Sheldon said that while the mailers are citing votes that he has taken in the past, “I’m frustrated with the way I am portrayed.”
“There is always a little truth in every big lie,” he said.
Officials with the PDC said the complaint, which they received Monday, was under initial review.
Bowling’s campaign manager, Henning Larsen, said the campaign just learned of the mailers and has no knowledge of the group or whether it’s following the law.
“If there’s a group out there not following campaign finance law, of course we wouldn’t approve of that,” he said. “No campaign would. It doesn’t help us, it hurts us. That’s not something we would ever approve.”
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