Live by the PDC complaint, die by the PDC complaint, that’s the painful lesson the Susan Hutchison campaign ironically learned yesterday after a press conference was derailed by questions regarding alleged reporting violations.
PDC complaints are a dime a dozen during election season, a standard campaign tactic intended to discredit the opposition and distract the press. Our disclosure requirements are complicated and time consuming, and mistakes are made, unintentional or not, and thus there’s rarely a top of the ticket campaign that hasn’t had a PDC complaint filed against it, and/or had a PDC complaint filed on its behalf. Hell, even I’ve filed a PDC complaint or two… that’s how common they are.
In that spirit, Hutchison and her surrogates have been pushing a complaint against the Constantine campaign for weeks, accusing it of illegal coordination with an independent expenditure campaign with which it shares treasurers, Jason Bennett. Illegal coordination is a pretty damn serious charge, but like many such complaints, this one is also pretty damn unsupported by the facts. Bennett serves as treasurer for dozens of campaigns, a role that largely consists of, well, filing PDC reports. In fact, it was Bennett himself who first notified the PDC of the potential conflict after he saw the IE come through from his other client.
And that’s the kind of thorough attention to detail Hutchison could’ve used from her own campaign treasurer, judging by the 81 reporting violations contained within the PDC complaint filed yesterday by the King County Democrats. To be fair, individually, the bulk of the violations are of the piddling variety, normally attributable to sloppiness and incompetence, though taken together they sure do come off as a general disregard for our public disclosure laws. Chronically late reports… missing employer information and sub-vender detail… these are the kinda things the PDC tends to try to work with campaigns to resolve, though given the extent of the violations, I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least a minor fine come down, if many months after the election. Or maybe not. The PDC can be inscrutable this way.
But buried amidst all the apparent sloppiness are a couple of doozies Hutchison will find much harder to explain… as she did at yesterday’s press conference, when she first refused to answer reporters’ questions regarding the four bedroom Laurelhurst house she uses as a campaign headquarters, but doesn’t report as either a contribution or an expense, before proceeding to dig herself even deeper by spinning an obvious fib.
Finally, Hutchison told [KIRO-TV reporter Essex] Porter the home was “not donated” and that it was “the residence of my campaign manager.”
[Jordan] McCarren, who works for a California-based Republican consulting firm, is not from Seattle.
McCarren tells PubliCola that he rents the property. “I have a rental agreement with the landlord.” However, asked who the landlord is, he says, “Honestly, I would have to look that up.”
You don’t know who you pay rent to? “We have offered all that information to the PDC.”
As Publicola uncovered, the rental home is managed by a company owned by wireless mogul and Republican moneybags Bruce McCaw, who has already double-maxed to Hutchison to the tune of $1,600 in contributions. And as for the claim that McCarren pays the rent, well, that’s hard to believe, at least not at fair market value.
Numerous searches of Craigslist and various rental services have shown similar houses in the neighborhood renting for between $2,300 and $4,000 month. That’s a pretty typical range for an $800,000 home, and far beyond the reach of a campaign manager in a county executive race.
As noted, Hutchison’s expenditure reports are a bit of a mess, but the only reported expense that appears to match his position is a $4,500/month recurring “communications consultant” fee, of which McCarren’s employer, Dresner Wicker, certainly takes a piece. So it begs credulity that McCarren would blow the bulk of his after-tax salary renting a four bedroom house in Laurelhurst for six months. Clearly, either McCaw’s company is renting Hutchison’s campaign headquarters to McCarren at well below market rates, which constitutes an illegal and unreported campaign contribution, or the rent is being illegally subsidized in some other fashion. And even if McCarren was paying market rent out of his own pocket, Hutchison still couldn’t use it as campaign headquarters without reporting it in some manner.
But whoever is paying the rent, it’s a pretty damn serious charge — amounting to as much as $20,000 in illegal contributions — and a damn sight better supported than the merely speculative complaint lodged against Constantine and Bennett. Combine that with the other $20,000 in late primary expenditures the complaint alleges the campaign also failed to disclose, and Hutchison has some serious ‘splainin’ to do.
The irony is, if the Hutchison camp hadn’t so emphatically pushed their complaint against Constantine, our fair and balanced media might not have felt quite so empowered to aggressively question Hutchison about her own alleged reporting violations. “Let she who is without sin cast the first stone” and all that… now that’s a Biblical verse Hutchison should be familiar with.
But more than just ignoring a Bible lesson, Hutchison also failed to learn from a Nixonian one: it’s the coverup, stupid.
I don’t doubt that McCarren may sleep there, but it’s “the residence of my campaign manager” does not answer the question as to why she didn’t report the use of the house as either a donation or an expense. She could have just said “Oops, my bad,” and promised to work with the PDC to clear up any discrepancies; a final determination on the complaint, and any accompanying fines wouldn’t come until months after the election, so little harm done.
But for a candidate who has made transparency a central theme of her campaign, her transparent lie yesterday didn’t do much to shore up her own credibility.