In the closing days of the 2014 election, national Democrats used a political committee called “American Values First” to specifically target for defeat the one Democrat member of the fiscally conservative Majority Coalition Caucus running for re-election, State Senator Tim Sheldon. The “independent expenditure” committee paid for deceptive campaign mailers and automated phone calls to conservative voters in an effort to help a liberal Democrat beat Sheldon.
These shenangians immediately drew a Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) complaint from the State Republican Party, after it was that the President of American Values First was also the Executive Director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) – which defines its mission as “works to win state legislative seats and chambers for Democrats.” Finally, last week the PDC proved true to form and let the Democrats off the hook for their unethical behavior.
The undisputed facts are that American Values First was not a registered political committee in Washington State, and was being led by an officer of a national organization committed to helping Democrats “win state legislative seats and chambers”. Further, by using the American Values First committee name, and not the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee name, the group would have a better chance of trying to convince conservative voters to oppose Sen. Sheldon. And finally, by using the American Values First committee for the unethical attacks, its donors could remain hidden from the voters it was trying to confuse in the 35th Legislative District.
American Values First—which engaged in deceptive activity for more than two weeks in the Sheldon race—seemingly violated multiple Washington State laws. The Port Orchard Independent reported at the time that these laws included:
- Not registered as a political committee with the PDC. (RCW 42.17A.205)
- Failure to report source of funds. (RCW 42.17A.305)
- Fails to list top 5 contributors on the mailers. (RCW 42.17A.320)
- Does not have a committee with 10 Washington state donors. (RCW 42.17A.442)
- Without an established committee, spending violates $5,000, 21-day rule. (RCW42.17A.420)
- Failure to file C6 form for independent expenditures. (RCW 42.17A.255)
- Failure to file C6 form within 24 hours. (RCW 42.17A.305)
American Values First also violated its tax status as a 501(c)(4). By law, 501(c)(4)’s are only permitted to “conduct a very small percentage of their activities on political campaigns.” By every indication, the illegal PAC did not meet those criteria, spending more than 20% of its money in 2014 against Sen. Sheldon.
The leader of the DLCC apparently founded American Values First so it could intervene in state elections without divulging its donors. Though the group claims that its primary purpose was “to protect one of our most sacred freedoms – the right to vote”, it also on its website clearly tries to create a defense for its unethical behavior, by claiming “when necessary, we engage in political intervention as a secondary purpose of our organization. At no time will our political program constitute our primary mission.”
In an effort to hold the group accountable to state law, the Washington State Republican Party filed a complaint with the PDC largely alleging violations listed by the Port Orchard Independent at the time. Unfortunately, once again, the PDC decided not to do its job. The PDC found “no reason to believe” that American Values First violated state law. Apparently, agency staff did not even bother to look at the mailers sent out in the 35th LD, or consider the linkages between the national Democrats committeed to winning legislative races and American Values First.
This isn’t the first time the PDC has failed to do anything about liberals violating state law. The PDC recently failed to hold our green governor responsible for violating state lobbying laws with emails that amounted to personal grassroots lobbying, using campaign funds. And, the PDC let extreme “green” billionaire Tom Steyer off the hook for an obvious campaign finance violation in 2013.
Now, it appears, the PDC will reform its policies so it can act faster, clearing Democrats even quicker than it did before.
According to the Seattle Times, the PDC made some changes last week with the intention to “reduce the time it takes to resolve some disclosure complaints.” These changes include making it easier for a single public disclosure commissioner to resolve certain cases, making it unnecessary for them to wait for scheduled monthly meetings. The Seattle Times,
“The changes would authorize the single-commissioner hearings to impose penalties of up to $1,000 — an increase from the current $500, according to a draft of the changes.
“Other changes would increase the penalties for violations regarding campaign expenditure and contribution reports, personal financial statements, candidate registrations and lobbying reports.”
We’re all for the PDC making its work more efficient… if it bothered to do its work when it comes to holding Democrats accountable. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a great track record for doing so.