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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Former Spokane City Attorney Nancy Isserlis named chair of Washington Public Disclosure Commission

Isserlis  (Photo courtesy of the state Public Disclosure Commission)

Nancy Isserlis, a former Spokane city attorney who left that position in 2016, is now the chair of the state Public Disclosure Commission, the agency tasked with overseeing political campaign transparency in Washington.

The agency is led by five commissioners, one of whom is named chair, and an executive director. Isserlis, who was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee at the start of 2020, was elected chair by her fellow commissioners on June 22. She is the first PDC chair from Spokane since Michael Connelly, who served on the board from 2001 to 2006.

“I have long been involved on the other end of the process; I’ve chaired many campaigns for folks, chaired many judicial election campaigns,” Isserlis said in a phone interview Tuesday. “When the opportunity came to get on the Public Disclosure Commission, I thought it’d be interesting and that I could use my experience having chaired a number of campaigns to help with the work of the commission.”

The commission is tasked with tracking campaign donations and spending in state political races.

As in 2020 when she first was first appointed to the PDC by Inslee and confirmed by the state Senate, Isserlis said much of the work ahead of her and the agency writ-large involves keeping apace of changing technology and the use of social media platforms to deliver campaign messaging. That includes watching for alleged flouting of regulations, as with Facebook. Parent company Meta was fined over $35 million in late 2022 after state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the company for violations of the Fair Campaign Practices Act, though Meta is appealing that decision.

Isserlis was named city attorney by Mayor David Condon in 2012 and took on several high-profile cases amid transitioning the legal office away from concerns prompted by the review of the police killing of Otto Zehm, which later resulted in the criminal conviction of police Officer Karl F. Thompson. In 2015, Isserlis became embroiled in the delayed release of public records alleging sexual harassment against former police Chief Frank Straub.

An independent review of the case concluded that Isserlis, along with then-City Administrator Theresa Sanders, had “intentionally withheld information from the City Clerk about the existence of the documents at issue with the intent and purpose of delaying the production of those records until after (Condon’s re-election).” Both Isserlis and Sanders disputed the findings of the report, and Isserlis – who left her job as city attorney about two months before the report’s release – later threatened legal action, calling the findings defamatory. Isserlis declined at the time to be interviewed by the investigator, along with several other employees in the office who cited attorney-client privilege.

In an interview following Isserlis’ 2020 appointment to the PDC, Inslee said he was not familiar with concerns about her involvement with transparency issues at City Hall prior to his decision on appointment. When asked how she was able to reassure the governor, Isserlis simply said she had the confidence of the governor and bipartisan lawmakers.

“I think you learn from everything you do in your life, so, yeah, it was a learning experience,” she said.

Isserlis has practiced law since 1981, less than a decade after the creation of the PDC by citizen initiative, she noted. Technology has rapidly changed since then, including the widespread adoption of computers, a reduced reliance on paper records, and more recently a proliferation of social media companies, all of which have had profound impacts on the landscape of campaigning and the work of the PDC, Isserlis said.

“The PDC has had to keep in step with the times,” she said.

She noted the agency’s introduction in recent years of online filing to make campaign data rapidly available to the public.

Isserlis said she also looks forward to continuing the agency’s recent initiative to conduct some of its meetings outside of Olympia, noting the June 22 meeting in Spokane.

“We regulate the entire state, not just Olympia, and many boards and commissions have their meetings in Olympia because that’s where the state government is,” she said. “One of the pillars of our strategic plan is that we get out into the regulated community and have meetings like we did in Spokane last month.”

In addition to her service in City Hall, Isserlis has worked as the regional directing attorney for Columbia Legal Services and was a member of the boards of Pioneer Human Services, the Endowment for Equal Justice and the Washington State Bar Association of Governors. She is also a part chair of the Spokane City Ethics Committee.

Isserlis’ five-year term on the PDC ends in 2024. By law, commissioners cannot be reappointed.