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Local Democratic PAC plans to disband after complaints

Conservative activist says he's confident courts won’t allow it

By , Columbian political reporter
Published: January 23, 2018, 9:55pm

A political action committee associated with the local Democratic Party has stated that it will disband after being targeted by a conservative activist who has filed hundreds of complaints against similar organizations and politicians across the state.

The activist, Glen Morgan, called the move to dissolve an attempt to dodge the state’s campaign finance laws, which he said several other Democratic-affiliated political committees he’s targeted have also tried to do.

He said he’s confident that the courts won’t allow it.

“They are going to realize that this is not an option for them,” he said. “They are going to follow the law.”

Rich Rogers, the chair of the Clark County Democrats, declined to comment on the matter. According to a statement from the party, though, the political action committee affiliated with the party called the 49th Legislative District Democrats has decided to formally deregister.

The statement blames the decision to deregister on Morgan, a Thurston County resident who serves as the executive director of the Citizens Alliance for Property Rights, who last year filed a lawsuit and complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission, the state’s election monitor, alleging that the committee failed to properly report its finances.

The statement accuses Morgan of having “weaponized Washington’s well-intended but seriously flawed” campaign finance law. It also says that volunteer-run political committees, such as the 49th Legislative District Democrats, “have found it impossible to operate without being repeatedly accused of having failed to comply with all of the requirements of the law.”

Morgan said that the political committee hasn’t been transparent and that deregistering itself undermines campaign finance law.

“It’s very logical why they can’t (dissolve),” said Morgan. “Because if you could, why would anyone file anything with the PDC? You could run an illegal campaign and then just dissolve your committee and then start a new committee. If that were the case, there would be no reason to have a PDC.”

The Public Disclosure Commission relies on politically interested members of the public to uphold campaign finance laws by monitoring and filing complaints against their opponents. Over the last year, there’s been an uptick in complaints with the commission as politicians and activists have increasingly used it to attack each other. Morgan has been a particularly prolific filer of complaints.

Morgan said he’s filed about 320 complaints against various politicians and committees since 2016, as well about 20 lawsuits in the court system alleging campaign finance violations.

In October, Morgan filed a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission alleging that the 49th Legislative District Democrats have “habitually and willfully committed frequent and multiple violations” of the state’s campaign laws by filing late and incomplete financial reports.

Specifically, the complaint alleges that the political committee failed to properly report $1,707 worth of debt. The complaint states that the committee left out details on $946 worth of expenditures, specifically the number of items for print jobs and sub-vendors. The complaint states the committee was approximately 1,465 days late in total in filing reports.

In a response to the complaint, Carol Turgeon, the committee’s treasurer, wrote to the commission that late filing had been frustrating and that she had trouble filling out forms because of computer problems. She wrote that Morgan was identifying expenses for a meeting, not debts, and that reports had been amended.

“There has at no time been any willful or any malicious intent to disregard the laws of the State of Washington,” she wrote.

Morgan said that his complaint is about transparency because these reports reveal to the public where a committee is getting its money. The Public Disclosure Commission has not taken action on it.

“This is not a frivolous complaint,” said Morgan. “There’s obvious merit to it.”

In December, Morgan followed up on his PDC complaint by filing in Thurston County Superior Court a “citizen action” lawsuit against the 49th Legislative District Democrats. In these lawsuits, a member of the public essentially takes a civil action on behalf of the state after the attorney general declines to take it up.

In the case, Morgan is represented by Vancouver lawyer Angus Lee, who previously was involved with efforts to remove Don Orange, a Port of Vancouver commissioner candidate, from the ballot last year.

Party-building activity

According to the statement from the party, the 49th Legislative District Democrats decided to deregister after consulting with its legal counsel and the Washington State Democratic Party.

The statement continues that the 49th Legislative District Democrats, unlike most political committees, didn’t give money to political candidates but instead focused on party-building activities.

“For that reason, we do not believe that it ever needed to be registered with the PDC in the first place, and we do not expect the fact that the 49th Legislative District Democrats will now no longer be operating a PAC to significantly impact the activities of our organization going forward,” reads the statement.

The Vancouver-based 49th Legislative District is represented all by Democrats, including Sen. Annette Cleveland and state Reps. Sharon Wylie and Monica Stonier. According to PDC filings, the party has controlled a small amount of money (under $4,000 annually for the last two years) that it’s used for fundraisers, training and other activities.

PDC spokeswoman Kim Bradford said in an email that state law gives the 49th Legislative District Democrats broad latitude in how it can spend leftover money.

According to the committee’s most recent report it had $5,723. The report shows the committee spent $112 for a PO box, $60 in yearly dues for the Labor Roundtable of South West Washington, $350 for rental space and $2,140 was directed to Wellstone Action, a Minnesota-based political organization.

Just over $3,000 was paid in legal fees to Schwerin Campbell Barnard Iglitzin & Lavitt LLP, a Seattle-based law firm that Morgan said is defending the committee against his lawsuit.

Morgan said that the Democratic Party has been more likely to file Public Disclosure Commission complaints against its opponents in the past. After being the subject of one in 2016, Morgan said, it sparked his interest in arcane campaign finance rules and he began filing dozens of them himself.

Last March, Washington Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, was ordered to pay $6,470 in fines for failing to report some campaign donations and expenditures as a result of a complaint filed by Morgan.

Morgan said the situation highlights the need for campaign finance law reform.

“If everyone is violating the law, then there is something wrong with the law,” he said.

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