In what could be a costly turn of events for the subjects, both financially and politically, Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) Executive Director Vickie Rippie has filed a detailed complaint with her own commission, alleging numerous campaign finance and reporting violations on the part of Republicans Dino Rossi, Attorney General Rob McKenna, the Washington Association of Realtors and their various committees.
The complaint alleges that the Realtors failed to properly report $415,000 of electioneering that specifically targeted Gov. Chris Gregoire, while providing over-limit in-kind advertising expenditures to Rossi and McKenna in the amounts of $498,000 and $29,000 respectively, both in excess of the $1,600 limit per election. The complaint also alleges that both Rossi and McKenna violated state law by coordinating fundraising with the Realtors, and illegally accepting the over-limit contributions.
This complaint comes on top of a previous settlement in September, in which the Realtors acknowledged nearly a million dollars of illegal expenditures between 2004 and 2007, and agreed to a $130,000 fine. Under the terms of the agreement, $50,000 of the fine would be suspended if the Realtors managed to follow all applicable laws through 2011… a sum for which the Realtors should now prepare to write a check, considering the new complaint documents violations through October of 2008, one month after the settlement.
It should also be noted the unusal nature of this complaint, coming from the Executive Director herself after a preliminary internal investigation. The PDC appears to have the Realtors, Rossi and McKenna by the short and curlies, and it’s likely only the tip of the iceberg. The violations are also quite similar to those alleged between Dino Rossi and the Building Industry Association of Washington, but not anywhere near the scale in terms of total dollars. This doesn’t bode well for Rossi and the BIAW.
Nor does it look good for McKenna, whose office would normally prosecute these charges given the PDC’s lack of statutory authority to levy penalties commensurate with the severity of the violations. McKenna has supposedly recused himself from several recent PDC cases that have come his way, passing the prosecution on to underlings, but considering his direct involvement with Realtors’ illegal activities, it is long past time for these cases to be handed off to an independent prosecutor outside the control and influence of his office. (I nominate John Ladenburg.)
The Builders, the Realtors and the Washington State Republican Party threw caution to the wind during this past election cycle, openly flouting campaign finance and reporting laws in an unprecedented effort to get their man into the governor’s mansion by any means possible, and it is hard to believe that this pattern of sustained abuse across the WSRP and its allied political committees was merely coincidental. At what point illegal coordination crosses the line to conspiracy, I don’t know, but if all that results from these violations is a series of fines—even massive fines—these well-heeled organizations will merely write it off as a post-election cost of doing business… a cost that would have been well worth the price had Rossi won.
I’m afraid that unless somebody eventually goes to jail for this kind of blatantly illegal electioneering, there’s nothing the PDC can really do to discourage it from happening again in the future.