In Our View: No Shell Games

Pridemore’s bill sails through Senate; PACs would be forced to improve behavior

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Anyone looking for a more glamorous title than just “Senate Bill 5021” might try to immortalize the measure as the “Sad, Sad Legacy of Moxie Media.” We know one legislator who might prefer the bill be known as the “Pride of Pridemore.” Whatever moniker ultimately emerges, you can already call SB 5021 unanimously approved as of Thursday.

Last year Moxie Media of Seattle was exposed for multiple shenanigans during the election campaign, including diverting contributions into multiple newly created political action committees without following state disclosure laws. Although unscrupulous campaign strategies litter the histories of both political parties, this time it was Democratic activists who were performing the shell games. State Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, became properly fed up, declared that voters deserve to know who’s funding campaigns and decided to take strong action.

And last week, his SB 5021 was unanimously approved in the state Senate. A companion bill awaits approval in the state House, where we see no reason why similar unanimity cannot be achieved. Among the Senate bill’s provisions are criminal sanctions and direct fines of up to $10,000 for serious violations of campaign disclosure rules. A Clark County colleague of Pridemore’s in the Senate — Republican Don Benton of Vancouver — was quoted in The Olympian newspaper, stating that the bill goes “a long way to making our campaigns more transparent, cleaner” and to letting voters know who is paying for campaign materials.

Specifically, the bill would prohibit any two PACs from having the same name but different purposes, and a PAC’s name must include the name of the person or entity who created it. Currently, the reporting of “electioneering communications” valued at $5,000 is required, but SB 5021 would lower that threshold to $1,000. And the bill would increase maximum fines for multiple violations to $10,000, up from the current $4,200. Some intentional violations would be classified as misdemeanors, and false or forged filings would constitute a felony.

In a Dec. 29 editorial, we opined: “Clandestine, nefarious campaign spending victimizes more than just the unfairly targeted candidates. It intentionally leaves voters — even the ones who most diligently research the campaigns — under-informed.” Especially troubling is that word “intentionally,” and that’s why we’re glad Pridemore’s bill would lower the boom particularly on the worst violators. Diverse groups agree. The bill’s supporters include not only the Building Industry Association of Washington and the Association of Washington Business, but also the American Civil Liberties Union and Washington State Labor Council. Rare is the legislator who can muster that kind of coalition on a serious bill, and that’s why Pridemore’s work deserves praise.

Another supporting group is the state Public Disclosure Commission, which brings us to another local connection. Dave Seabrook of Battle Ground, a 19-year veteran of the Vancouver Fire Department, is chair of the PDC. The PDC is known nationwide for its superb work in regulating campaign finances, lobbyist expenditures and the financial affairs of public officials and candidates.

If the House follows the Senate’s lead, Seabrook and the PDC will be empowered to serve Washingtonians even more effectively as voters examine who’s running for office, and who’s financially backing those candidates.