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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane campaign group backed by fire union given maximum fine for 2015 violations

This March 29, 2016photo shows the Washington Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (Rachel La Corte / AP)

OLYMPIA – A Spokane political committee will pay $7,000 for failing to properly report some $94,000 it spent to help two City Council candidates win in the 2015 municipal elections.

Spokane for Honest Government, which got the bulk of its money that year from the local firefighters union and its political action committee, spent the money on independent ads backing council candidates Karen Stratton and Lori Kinnear, who were both elected.

But the organization did not follow state law for accounting for most of its independent expenditures.

It should have reported where it spent the money, and for whom, within 24 hours of buying the ads, the Public Disclosure Commission was told Thursday by its investigator. It didn’t file the proper reports until June 2016.

Because of the late filing, the public had no way of knowing the source of those ads before the election, said Chad Standifer, an assistant attorney general.

Danielle Franco-Malone, an attorney for the campaign organization, told the commission Spokane for Honest Government is a volunteer organization whose leaders made a “good faith effort” to comply with the law. The treasurer attended a PDC training session, which didn’t deal with reports for independent expenditures, she said.

“There’s no evidence in the record that this is anything other than an honest mistake,” Franco said. “These are not sophisticated players.”

But Standifer pointed out the instructions for reporting independent expenditures can be found on the PDC website. The group filed some reports for independent expenditures on time so “they did know how to do it correctly,” he added.

Standifer recommended a fine of $10,000, the maximum the commission can levy, with some of it suspended if the group doesn’t have any new violations in the next four years. Franco-Malone urged the commission to suspend at least $5,000 of the fine under those conditions, saying the resulting amount would be more than just a slap on the wrist.

Any fine more than $5,000 could cause the organization to dissolve, she added.

On a 5-0 vote, however, the commission agreed to suspend only $3,000 if the organization has no new violations for four years, and pays the $7,000 in the next 90 days. It also must file any remaining reports in 30 days.

Spokane for Honest Government has been active in the current council races, most recently with an independent ad criticizing challenger Matthew Howes in his race against incumbent Candace Mumm. Randy Marler, the group’s campaign manager, couldn’t immediately say whether the higher fine than Franco-Malone requested would cause it to shut down.

“We’ll look into the guidance of our attorney on that issue,” Marler said.