Former Supreme Court justices to file suit against BIAW

Former Washington State Supreme Court justices Faith Ireland and Robert Utter have notified Attorney General Rob McKenna and county prosecutors that they intend to file suit against the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) and the Master Builders Association alleging massive public disclosure violations, unless prosecutors take action within 45 days. From a press release issued this morning by their attorneys:

A secret campaign war chest created by leaders of a statewide builder’s association to influence this fall’s gubernatorial election has been openly challenged by a group that includes two prestigious former State Supreme Court justices: Robert Utter and Faith Ireland.

The amount of money amassed by the BIAW has been estimated at upwards of $3.5 million. Contrary to state law, the BIAW and the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish County (MBA) are not registered as a Political Committees, nor have they publicly disclosed the sources of their campaign money.

[…] Former Justice Faith Ireland supports the effort to force transparency in the electoral process. “Washington has good public disclosure laws and when they are enforced, we will have a transparent, accountable political process. Without enforcement, sneak tactics and last minute ambush can unfairly influence the outcome of important races,” Ireland stated.

Former Justice Robert Utter agrees. “I believe the actions of the BIAW violate the letter and spirit of the public disclosure law in this campaign season and in past seasons as well. The law provides for a process to test these concerns. I look forward to a successful determination of the issues.”

I’ve only quickly skimmed the Notice of Intent to Sue, but the arguments look pretty compelling and well supported, and it’s hard to believe a couple of former Supreme Court justices would get behind such a suit if they weren’t pretty damn confident about the legal underpinnings.

Attorney Knoll Lowney calls the BIAW’s actions perhaps “the most significant violation of campaign finance laws in state history,” and the consequences could end up being much, much greater than just a PDC fine. Almost as an afterthought the press release mentions another pending case:

In a related matter, a class action suit (RE Sources v. BIAW) is pending in Thurston County. That lawsuit, filed by BIAW trust beneficiaries, alleges that BIAW funneled trust money that was earmarked for marketing and promoting worker safety into their political activities. That class action seeks accounting, preservation and restoration of the BIAW trust fund. Questions relating to this action may also be answered at the press conference.

If successful, this suit could force the BIAW to pay back into the trust fund the millions of dollars it has illegally spent on political campaigns over the years, essentially bankrupting the association. Gee, I sure hope our state’s radio and TV stations are getting cash up front for all those lying BIAW ads.

Comments

  1. 1

    ArtFart spews:

    Assuming McKenna and the county prosecutors don’t act, the timing of this appears just about spot-on to create the most conspicuous public uproar during the final run-up to the election.

  2. 3

    Steve spews:

    Hmm, the Biaw has removed any trace of its hate-strewn Insight Magazine from its website.

  3. 4

    GBS spews:

    Wouldn’t it be just too cool if Mr. Cynical was named in the lawsuit and wound up serving prison time — again!

  4. 5

    Blue John spews:

    Insight Magazine?
    .pdf files are still on the web site. they just took down the visible index to find them.
    You can find them by going to Google, keywords “Insight Magazine Biaw” and clicking on the cache.
    Why was the magazine bad? I missed that.
    Oh I see. With Journalism like this….

    “ACORN opposes all laws designed to prevent vote fraud; ACORN hires criminals to register “voters”; ACORN provides no oversight for its workers; ACORN encourages its workers to do whatever it takes to register voters; ACORN promises to register hundreds of thousands of new “voters” in 2008 who will vote for Obama. Something smells?”

  5. 8

    Laverna spews:

    Why such concern over BIAW’s trust funds? Why not the underfunded SEIU trust funds? Enrollment in BIAW’s worker safety program is voluntary, unlike the compulsory participation in public-sector labor unions in this state. If you complain about BIAW, at least be consistent and take on public labor for the same types of alleged violations.

  6. 9

    Steve spews:

    @5 A few Mark Musser (he’s the BIAW Stormtroop.., er, um, Stormwater Field Representative) gems from the March edition:

    “I explored the actual connections between environmental extremism and Hitler’s Nazi party.”

    “am environmental movement which extols ecofascism”

    “Like Stalin and Hitler”

    “their socialistic scheme”

    “Homebuilders are caught between militant ecofascism (radical environmentalists like ELF) and communistic bureaucracy (DOE).”

    Brad Spears, in his March President’s Letter, tosses in: “The older folks in the mainstream enviro groups silently applaud this new and novel approach: If you build it, we will burn it. It’s the next, natural step in the environmental movement.”

  7. 10

    W. Klingon Skousen spews:

    re 8: So the voluntary funds committed to worker safety went to the BIAW’s crackpot political programs instead. Sounds fair to me.

  8. 11

    ByeByeGOP spews:

    As usual – the right wingers are for rule of law as long as it isn’t applied to them. How do these lying, crooks justify their behavior?

  9. 13

    Right Stuff spews:

    Democrat Strategy #1 – Smear
    Democrat Strategy #2 – Sue
    Democrat Strategy #3 – Steal

    The BIAW has been feeling strategy #1 for a very long time, now strategy #2 is in play.
    #3 is for election day.

    Let fly

  10. 15

    phule spews:

    are you this outraged by the millions that Unions spend every year on political issues?

  11. 16

    ArtFart spews:

    11 So when does a great white shark seek “justification” prior to biting a swimmer’s leg off?

    To them, “morality” applies to somebody else.

  12. 17

    ArtFart spews:

    15 (YAWN….) No, as a matter of fact.

    First, they’re up-front about doing so.

    Secondly, a lot of us like what they’re campaigning for.

    Deal with it.

  13. 20

    Daddy Love spews:

    13 RS

    Sorry–I meant “alleged” rabid right wing criminals. After all, we don’t KNOW that they’ve broken the clearly worded laws about making one’s donors public when one engages in political activities, until they’re convicted, right? The fact that they have not made their donors public when engaging in political activities should have no effect on our opinion of their guilt or innocence.

    Funny how those words you use apply equally well to Republican activities, although [a] it’s more often public money that they’re stealing, and [b] their lawsuits are based on lies and come to nothing (see 2004 WA Governor’s election).

  14. 22

    Richard Pope spews:

    I always thought that the BIAW was making a profit from the retrospective rating program, and using these profits to finance its political campaign activities. If a business (or even a “non-profit” like the BIAW) uses business profits to fund political campaign, then it would not have to report its customers or clients as contributors.

    On the other hand, it seems like BIAW is also soliciting voluntary contributions from its members to fund political activities, and apparently not reporting the receipt of these contributions. If true, that would certainly seem like a major campaign finance violation.

    The trust fund accounting issue seems to be a lot more serious of course. If the BIAW is improperly skimming trust fund money into political campaigns, then it could be very expensive if they were required to refund the money.

    Does state law allow BIAW (or anyone else) to run a retrospective rating program for industrial insurance, and make a profit from running the program that BIAW can use in any manner that it pleases? Or does any “profit” from the retro program have to be used only for specified purposes (such as expenses of running the program, and proper charitable programs — such as worker safety and education)?

  15. 23

    Daddy Love spews:

    15 pu

    are you this outraged by the millions that Unions spend every year on political issues?

    They declare their donors. The BIAW does not. Does that sound like a difference to you? This requires a yes or no answer.

  16. 24

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @15 If corporations can spend billions to buy political influence, why can’t unions spend millions to protect their economic interests? And who, by the way, is winning the battle of economic interests?

    Workers used to get 60% of American’s economic output. Now they get less than half. Imagine that. All the tens of millions of American workers put together are paid less than half of what the economy produces. Why should anyone work under a one-sided, unfair system like that?

    I don’t! I’m a capitalist, so I do no work and produce nothing! I made $330 in the stock market today by sitting on my fat rabbit ass doing absolutely nothing. That may not sound like much, but it’s equivalent to an 8-hour-a-day job paying $41.25, and I didn’t have to get out of bed or fight traffic! So what if I don’t produce anything … neither do the people collecting over 50% of America’s GDP! Why should I work? I’m a fucking capitalist just like them, so I don’t work, don’t produce anything, and am entitled to more than my fair share of GDP plus I pay only 1/3rd as much taxes as working stiffs do!

    Only fools work in this country. The deck is stacked against wage earners. Nobody should do any work. This is a capitalist country, so we should all be capitalists, and do nothing except sell stocks and real estate to each other! Then we can all be rich, get nifty tax breaks, and nobody will have to work!

    Then our GDP will be zero and nobody will pay taxes and we won’t need unions anymore.

  17. 25

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @13 Poor little BIAW! Poor, poor, picked-on Tom McCabe! Why, I’ll bet he’s having a good cry-on-mommy’s-shoulder baawwwl right now!

    He’ll cry a lot more if we take his L & I tax subsidies away from him. That should have been done years ago.

  18. 26

    michael spews:

    @15

    Union’s and other groups have a right to spend money on political activities. But, there are laws that must be followed when doing so.

    I’m not outraged that unions, or anyone else, spends money on political activities. But, you must follow the laws when doing so.

  19. 27

    spews:

    Laverna?

    Your argument seems to be that we should be as vocal about problems in Democratic and liberal institutions as we are about potential violations of the law in Republican and neo-con institutions.

    First, with regards to your criticsm of SEIU. It is normal practice, even among large corporations, for the retirement trust fund to be “underfunded”, meaning that projected growth is expected to pay for some of the obligations of the fund.

    Frankly the 75% funded level is much higher than many corporations fund their retirement programs. Even the NY Sun (that ran the story) had to really stretch to find something to complain about.

    But even without that, you’re comparing apples to floppy disks. The two situations have nothing to do with each other. It’s simply misdirection. In the BIAW case, public law has been violated, and trust fund monies have been misappropriated to support BIAW backed candidates for public office.

    Most folks call that kind of misapproriation “theft”.

    Finally, even disregarding all of the above, you seem to be insisting that we spend as much time condemning liberal organizations as we do condemning neo-con organizations. You neo-cons often make that argument around here.

    There are any number of neo-con blogs that seem convinced that neo-cons like the BIAW can do no wrong, while anything liberals do is automatically evil.

    We’re not so dogmatic around here. When a liberal politician or organization is in the wrong, we’ve been known to agree with the condemnation. People like Rep Jefferson and Mayor Berry get little sympathy around here.

    But although it seems to have escaped your attention, we are a liberal blog. We discuss issues of concern to liberals, from a liberal perspective.

    When I see unSP actively condeming the BIAW, and calling Mr. Rossi out on his more obvious misstatements, then you can ssk us to be a bit more aggressive about going after liberals.

    Until then, we’ll leave that task to the neo-con blogs. Of course, you could argue that they have a much more difficult job attacking liberals than we do attacking neo-cons.

    The neo-cons are much easier targets for criticism, because they do so many really stupid things.

  20. 28

    spews:

    Isn’t it funny how when I post on the BIAW, there’s always few new names who show up in the comment thread to defend them and/or deflect the topic?

  21. 31

    Daddy Love spews:

    29 pu

    The outrage “extends” to obvious attempts at criminality, but not quite to the victims of spurious innuendo and partisan smears.

    If you have a concrete example of some criminal activity vis-a-vis union political activity (which per se is perfectly legal) please present it.

  22. 32

    spews:

    Two comments:

    1. I believe the distinction of “largest campaign violation” belongs to the Washington Education Association. Union Settles Campaign Suit, Seattle P-I

    “The settlement requires the 65,000-member WEA to return about $330,000 in dues – $5 per member – and pay $80,000 in penalties and $20,000 in attorneys fees.

    “The amount is the largest penalty yet assessed for campaign violations in this state, said Richard Heath, senior assistant attorney general. “

    2. The Evergreen Freedom Foundation brought a similar action against the Washington Education Association several years ago, alleging the union operated as an unregistered PAC. An appeals court said the union didn’t qualify as a PAC because political action wasn’t its primary purpose. State ex rel. Evergreen Freedom Foundation v. Washington Educ. Ass’n, 111 Wash.App. 586 (2002).

  23. 33

    Sonya Jones spews:

    Well, if they pursue the lawsuit and win, every union in this state will have to register as a PAC and disclose ALL of their finances, too – can you just imagine WFSE filing an amicus brief in support of BIAW?

  24. 34

    RobBob spews:

    Thanks yellowpup. Wish I had a doggie bone for you.

    so this is the PAC that union members can say yes or no to their dues going into? If so, good for them for doing this. I believe that the lawsuit encouraged them to create this. If folks dues go to this and they don’t support this then I think that would be wrong.

    BTW – does anyone know what the rule is that makes the WEA-PAC site state the following?

    “During the summer and fall of 2008, click on the link below for election recommendations from the WEA Board and WEA’s Political Action Committee. Because of elections rules governing candidate endorsements, this page is password protected.”

  25. 35

    michael spews:

    @32

    Which still doesn’t make what the BIAW has been doing OK.

    With the BIAW as one of Dino Rossi’s largest donors, he needs to start thinking about giving some of that money back and distancing himself from them.

    BTW, how much cash does the EFF get from the BIAW…

  26. 36

    ArtFart spews:

    32 You win a few, you lose a few.

    If this action against the BIAW sticks, it’ll likely make the 1998 WEA settlement look like pocket change.

    Unions use money from dues to lobby for policies that would benefit their membership. In the case of the BIAW, they’re taking money from a trust fund established supposedly to promote the health and safety of their members’ employees, and using it to campaign for candidates who’d like nothing better than to do away with pesky workplace safety laws. I dunno about the rest of you folks, but that reads about a “10” on my moral vomit meter.

  27. 38

    michael spews:

    @28

    Dang, you sure called that one.

    If anyone needs anything I’ll be napping in the yard for an hour or so.

  28. 39

    michael spews:

    @36

    Don’t you love how the righties dredge up really old news to hide their current misdeeds behind.

    Now, I’m off to nap!

  29. 41

    ByeByeGOP spews:

    I don’t think we should wait on this lawsuit. The people can file their own suit – anyone can. We ought to organize a perpetual lawsuit against the coward, liars and traitors that run the BIAW!

  30. 42

    michael spews:

    Hey Mike Reitz,

    I’m still waiting to hear about how the EFF is free of dirty BIAW money.

  31. 44

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @8 Labor unions are good for workers. They improve wages, benefits, and working conditions for average Americans. BIAW is good for no one except a handful of rich developers who want a free hand to destroy the environment and exploit public lands that belong to all of us for their personal profit. Labor-sponsored ads about Gov. Gregoire are true; BIAW-sponsored ads about Gov. Gregoire are a pack of lies. Comparing BIAW to SEIU is like comparing Hitler’s Wehrmacht to the 101st Airborne Division. They’re in the same business — politics — but they’re qualitatively different.

  32. 45

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @28 “Isn’t it funny how when I post on the BIAW, there’s always few new names who show up in the comment thread to defend them and/or deflect the topic?”

    Say, that’s RIGHT!!! We’ve got some NEWBIES in this thread!!! Therefore, as HA’s ex officio greeter, it’s my duty to inform our new posters of the HA ad hoc posting rules:

    1) This is a liberal blog.
    2) Anyone can post here (except JCH).
    3) There is no censorship.
    4) As liberals, our mission is to verbally kick the living shit out of unpatriotic, America-hating, fascist trolls.
    5) No mercy for wingnuts!
    6) Our terms are unconditional surrender; there will be trials.
    7) klake is a nazi.

    Anybody got any questions?

  33. 46

    mark spews:

    Its all VOLUNTARY you stupid fucks. This only
    means their making an impact. Gotta go mail
    BIAW some more money. God you people really
    dont have a clue.

  34. 48

    YellowPup spews:

    @34:

    Thanks yellowpup. Wish I had a doggie bone for you.

    It’s amazing what you can find using Google. You should try it some time, genius.

  35. 49

    thor spews:

    Looks to me like these attorneys are giving reporters at the PI and the Times a tutorial on what they ought to be reporting on this election.

    The evidence appears to be a slam dunk that the BIAW and the MBA have been coordinating and both have – as a primary purpose – influencing a campaign. That means they both have been conspiring to violate the law and that everybody should see where their money is coming from.

    The BIAW is free to speak. All that’s being asked is that they report contributions just like other campaign organizations. The BIAW is clearly not telling the truth when it asserts that this is an effort to silence the BIAW. The only intent seems to be to have the BIAW start runing a legal campaign, instead of an illegal one.

    Dino Rossi has it easy on this one: just tell the BIAW and the MBA to start obeying the law. Rob McKenna has an obligation to do the same thing. These county prosecutors have been asleep.

  36. 50

    ByeByeGOP spews:

    Because all right wingers can do is deflect – let’s get on point.

    The BIAW is not being questioned about political activity. They have a right to let Dino (proven liar) Rossi fuck them in the ass if they want that.

    What they DON’T have the right to do is avoid disclosure required under the law. And the related suit is even more serious…

    The allegation that they “funneled trust money that was earmarked for marketing and promoting worker safety into their political activities” could even violate criminal statutes. Can we hear some more Sopranos music please.

    Oh and by the way right wing ass licks – it doesn’t matter who else has done what else – this is about what the cowards and traitors at the BIAW did and how they’re getting spanked for it. Capish?

  37. 51

    messenger spews:

    Why did it take a “citizen action” to get the PDC’s attention on this? I’ve noticed that the PDC, whose job it is to watchdog such things, seems to only take an interest if there is a complaint filed. Even then, they seem to be half-hearted about it. For once I’d like to see them take a proactive role.

  38. 52

    michael spews:

    And we’re still waiting for Mike Reitz (Evergreen Freedom Foundation, general council)to get back to us on how much dirty money the EFF has taken from the BIAW.

  39. 53

    Steve in Seattle spews:

    Can they get and publish the list of BIAW contractors so we can avoid givine them jobs? I changed contractors because the contractor I had been using was a BIAW member.

    My new conbtractor says he is not a BIAW member but I would like to know for sure.

  40. 54

    spews:

    Steve

    It’s almost impossible to find contractors that are not either members of BIAW or one of their associated local organizations.

    Even if your general contractor isn’t a member, there is a strong possibility that many of the subcontractors will be.

    You can check them out at Master Builder Association of King and Snohomish Counties.

    But many of their members do not belong due to political considerations. They do a pretty good job of supporting their members with insurance and education programs that aren’t otherwise available.

  41. 55

    Richard Pope spews:

    Michael @ 52

    Probably none. The EFF is set up as a tax-deductible charity, and its contributor list is not subject to public inspection or reporting. So rich folks will give to the EFF for tax deductions, etc. The BIAW is likely manipulating accounts so as to pay for political campaigns with zero or minimal disclosures of where the money came from. So there would be no reason or benefit for the BIAW to give this money to EFF instead.

  42. 56

    Mitch Seaman spews:

    “Does state law allow BIAW (or anyone else) to run a retrospective rating program for industrial insurance, and make a profit from running the program that BIAW can use in any manner that it pleases? Or does any “profit” from the retro program have to be used only for specified purposes (such as expenses of running the program, and proper charitable programs — such as worker safety and education)?”

    They’re allowed to use their share of the L&I refunds however they want. I used to lobby for the trades, and the BIAW made this point over and over again in testimony, in meetings with legislators, and in person with anyone unfortunate enough to have to listen to them.

    We were involved in drafting a bill that would have required retro groups to invest these retro profits towards uses that furthered the goal of the retro program — improved worker safety. The bill was in part a response to the BIAW’s ballot initiative to repeal the state’s landmark ergonomics rule, Initiative 841. (This initiative has, arguably, crippled thousands since its passage.)

    Our bill went through many revisions, and every one somehow transformed the BIAW lobbyists into even more frightening people. They are truly in a class of their own. How they come across in media reports doesn’t even begin to do them justice, they are seriously fucking creepy. I don’t think it’s a stretch to call them dangerous, though I saw one of their top dudes literally run out of the L&I parking lot to hide from my boss after the two of them got into a shouting match during some hearing. So they’re also huge chickenshits.

    But back to the point. Our bill failed in large part due to the recount controversy swirling all around it, and the media’s perception that it was retaliation for the BIAW’s funding role in the Rossi half of the recount effort. When really, it was a legitimate effort to steer the entire retro program back on course. Also, the big D legislators never really got it either.

    Until the mainstream media and the D leadership get a handle on this admittedly complex issue, the BIAW and their millions and their millions’ ability to warp the retro program completely out of recognition are all here to stay.