Of course it’s probably too little — and obviously much too late for the 2004 election — but King County Superior Court Judge Richard Jones has ruled that the $1.5 million in vicious attack ads run against Deborah Senn on the eve of the Democratic primary for Attorney General, constituted “express advocacy” by urging voters to vote against Senn. The court also held that the so-called Voter Education Committee (VEC) illegally failed to identify its funding source (the US Chamber of Commerce) and register as a political committee.
In upholding the regulatory actions of the Public Disclosure Commission, the judge soundly rejected the VEC’s claims that they had a First Amendment right to keep secret the corporate funding. The judge ruled that WA voters are entitled to truthful and accurate information in ads designed to influence the vote.
Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.
In a press release issued this morning, Deborah Senn said that the legal victory sets the stage for legal proceedings against the VEC and the US Chamber of Commerce that could impose stiff financial penalties for the illegal ads.
“This is an important victory for the voters’ right to know and to protect the electoral process against massive last minute negative campaign ads funded by out of state interests who are attempting to illegally sway voters in Washington State.”
According to Senn’s attorney, Mike Withey, the anti-Senn ads were part of a national campaign by the US Chamber to defeat judicial and attorney general candidates nationwide who had a record of being pro-consumer and protecting the preservation of the jury trial.
“The VEC was nothing more than a catchy but misleading name, a local “sleeper cell” which the US Chamber used to manipulate an election while standing in the shadows, free from public disclosure and accountability. This was a US Chamber operation from start to finish.”
Senn and Withey are holding a press conference today at 10 am.
Apparently, the anti-Senn campaign was only the tip of the iceberg. The US Chamber has secretly dedicated tens of millions of dollars to swaying local races nationwide. The money is strategically spent in normally low-profile, low-cost judicial and attorney general races, upsetting the balance with huge sums of out-of-state, “independent” expenditures.
If there was ever an argument for imposing campaign contribution limits on judicial campaigns, this is it.