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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Attorney for state Rep. Matt Shea counters PDC complaints over surplus funds

OLYMPIA – Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, listens to a presentation during a meeting this fall of the Legislative Task Force on Public Records. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

Campaign financing complaints against state Rep. Matt Shea for money spent from his surplus account are invalid, the lawmaker’s attorney told the Public Disclosure Commission this week.

A complaint that Shea made improper contributions to three charities ignores the “plain reading and common sense” of the state’s campaign finance laws, attorney Mark Lamb wrote in a response to the PDC. A separate complaint about his use of money to pay for radio broadcasts on the American Christian Network and others is not clear, but the broadcasts are allowed as re-election expenses, Lamb wrote.

The two complaints, filed earlier this month, challenged spending from Shea’s surplus account, which candidates can set up to receive contributions not spent during the campaign. Spending from that account is limited by state law, but not as restricted as the main campaign fund.

Walter Smith, an Olympia attorney who has challenged spending by Shea and other Republicans in the past, questioned the Spokane Valley lawmaker’s contributions to three organizations that aren’t registered as charities with the Washington secretary of state’s office.

Lamb contended that such registration isn’t required for the three organizations, all of which are eligible for tax-free donations with the Internal Revenue Service. One is affiliated with a church and the other two don’t solicit in Washington, so they wouldn’t be covered by the provision requiring registration with the secretary of state.

Aaron Jarvis, former volunteer coordinator for the campaign of Shea’s opponent in the fall election, challenged spending for Shea’s Patriot Radio broadcasts, which he sometimes uses to discuss his ideas like creating the 51st state out of Eastern Washington.

But Lamb contended expenses for the program “would be considered in furtherance of Rep. Shea’s re-election, are disclosed as such on the program, and would be a permissible use of surplus funds.”

The issues in the Jarvis complaint “were already adjudicated” in a 2017 case in Thurston County, Lamb added. That case, which was a result of a PDC complaint filed by Smith, resulted in a civil penalty of $1,000 and attorneys’ fees of $3,750, which Shea paid out of his surplus account.

A review of the documents surrounding that case on file with the Thurston County Superior Court indicates the 2017 complaint involved Shea’s main campaign fund and revolved around whether the expenses for some of those broadcasts were filed on time, not a challenge of whether they were proper.

The commission has until mid-February to either resolve the complaints administratively or open a formal investigation into them.