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Friday, August 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sue Lani Madsen: Campaign season is over – sort of

Sue Lani Madsen (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Sue Lani Madsen (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Campaign season is done, long live the next campaign season.

You aren’t ready yet? The brief December interregnum is over. For political parties and elected officials, the end of one campaign means it’s time to launch the next. A dozen candidates have already filed with the Public Disclosure Commission for the 2019 municipal elections in Spokane County.

We’re guaranteed 10 months of angling for votes by hook or by crook, followed by another month of argy-bargy over how many voted, who voted, and what does it all mean.

“By hook or by crook” has an interesting etymology, according to the latest Christmas addition to the home office library of rare words and obscure phrases. It’s nothing to do with being crooked. The hook and the crook are the tools a medieval peasant would use to prune and gather dead branches from the forest, where they were not allowed to cut trees but desperately needed firewood. “Does that branch look dead to you, Bert?” “Sure does, Ernie.” Human nature being unchanged since the 14th century, people will seek what they want or need by whatever means necessary.

Washington’s PDC is the body that decides whether the hook and crook have been used too liberally to gather fuel. The Spokane County Democratic Central Committee is the most recent high-profile recipient in the region of fines for improperly accepting, filing reports on and accounting for political fuel – money.

As previously reported, the SCDCC has been assessed penalties of $72,000 with half waived if there are no violations in the next four years, plus $11,300 in fees. Former chair and executive director Jim Castrolang will personally pay $1,500, and former treasurer Justin Galloway will pay $500.

According to Glen Morgan, the conservative political activist from Thurston County who filed the original complaints, Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office coordinated a “helpful payment plan” with the SCDCC instead of collecting the full amount upon settlement. Morgan said such arrangements were not used until after the Pierce County Democrats settled a similar case for a total of $38,520 in penalties, fees and costs in 2017.

Announcing the fines is intended to strike fear in the hearts of campaign treasurers and their candidates, although choosing to release the news on Christmas Eve seemed guaranteed to bury it, according to Morgan. But any story about a campaign containing the words “cited for PDC violations” is negative, as is any reference to a PDC settlement. It’s one of a few exceptions to the old saying that there’s no such thing as bad press as long as they spell your name right.

So for the aspiring 2019 Spokane City Council, council president and mayoral candidates, pay attention. The PDC relies on the political parties to hold each other accountable, and for each candidates’ opponents to report violations. Savvy campaigns assign someone to check the PDC website and monitor opponents, but anyone can file a PDC complaint. Morgan is committed to his quest to force the legislature to reform PDC rules by continuing to file citizen complaints on sloppy bookkeeping and negligent filing.

And he’s already done it again. While the PDC declined to pursue a more formal investigation or further enforcement on Morgan’s two most recent complaints, they did issue a warning. In a letter to the SCDCC’s attorney, Michael Connelly, dated Dec. 20, the PDC states the “Spokane County Democratic Central Committee is hereby formally warned concerning their failure to timely file Monetary Contributions reports (C-3 reports) and Summary Full Campaign Contribution and Expenditure reports (C-4 reports) disclosing contribution and expenditure activities, including debts for legal services provided, and reimbursements made to Committee officials.” The warning letter will go on the SCDCC’s permanent record and be used in consideration of PDC actions on any “future violations of PDC laws or rules.”

From Morgan’s point of view, expressed in an interview last year, the best outcome would be citizen pressure for bipartisan reform of the byzantine mass of PDC laws and rules that discourage citizen trust and participation in government.

But it hasn’t discouraged Kelly Cruz, John Lemus, Shawn Poole, Christopher Schroll, Ben Stuckart and Michael Tedesco. As of Thursday, all six had registered 2019 campaigns for mayor of Spokane. They’ll be jostling for position and looking for every advantage to break out of the pack to the top two and then win the whole enchilada, by hook or by crook.

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