Seattle political consulting firm fined $250,000

Public Disclosure Commission said Moxie Media violated state laws

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— A political consulting firm has agreed to pay one of the largest election-related fines in state history for trying to conceal the source of last-minute campaign mailings that targeted a Democratic state senator — a high-profile case that led to changes in campaign-reporting laws.

The state attorney general's office announced the lawsuit settlement with Seattle's Moxie Media on Friday.

The firm and its partners, Lisa MacLean and Henry Underhill, will also pay $40,000 in legal fees. If they comply with campaign reporting laws through 2015, $140,000 of the penalty would be suspended.

State election authorities say Moxie Media established two layers of political committees to sponsor $9,000 in postcards and robo-calls seeking to oust state Sen. Jean Berkey, D-Everett.

Berkey, a conservative Democrat, was being targeted by labor interests, who preferred another Democratic candidate.

The mailings and calls were designed to help little-known Republican Rod Reiger. Berkey lost the primary election, and Democrat Nick Harper later defeated Reiger in the general election.

Harper, who was unaware of Moxie Media's actions, was sworn into the state Senate in 2011.

Under the state's Top Two system, the two candidates who get the most votes in the primary advance to the general election, regardless of party. Apparently concerned that Berkey would make it through the primary, Moxie Media and labor interests reportedly decided to pump up Reiger's candidacy.

The Public Disclosure Commission said Moxie Media violated state laws by not properly identifying funding sources.

Berkey had sought a new election, but the attorney general's office said it couldn't determine with certainty that the campaign finance violations affected the outcome.

MacLean and Underhill did not immediately return phone messages left Friday afternoon.

Influenced by the Moxie Media case, the Legislature this year approved a measure which requires further disclosure, lowers campaign reporting threshold requirements, prohibits certain contributions and requires stricter provisions on how political action committees name themselves.