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.