This Washington

Reform Bill Addresses Democratic Scandal, Ignores GOP Shenanigans

By Josh Feit January 14, 2011

State Sen. Craig Pridemore's (D-49) bill to tighten campaign finance rules on independent political committees got a hearing in Olympia yesterday.

All 11 sponsors are Democrats. Good on them: The bill is a response to the campaign finance scandal starring Democratic political consultant Moxie Media, which, according to a Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) report, set up a shadow political committees to hide donors. (PubliCola was first to report on Moxie's questionable tactics last August.) The bill would prevent the creation of shell committees.

However, the Democratic bill fails to address last year's campaign finance scandal on the GOP side: A mystery group called Americans for Prosperity Washington is accused of failing to disclose its top donors. (Equal opportunity reporters that we are, we were the first to report on that chicanery as well).

The accusations against AFPW (Sen. Karen Keiser, D-33, asked Attorney General Rob McKenna to pursue the matter back in November) are different than the ones against Moxie. AFPW isn't being accused of setting up fake committees to hide donors, they're accused of not reporting their donors at all.

(We have called AFPW's director, former KVI talk show host Kirby Wilbur, several times as we've reported this story. He has never called us back.)

AFPW is the local affiliate of a the national Koch Brothers' Tea Party group, Americans for Prosperity. AFP famously took advantage of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which allows nonprofit groups to get away with channeling corporate money into campaigns without disclosure at the federal level. If AFP helped pay for AFPW's hit pieces against Democratic incumbents—and at this point, who knows? (and that's the problem)—Washington voters would be in the dark.

Luckily, the lax federal rules that allowed AFP to hide its donors at the federal level don't jibe with Washington State's full disclosure rules.

Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48), a cosponsor of the Moxie reform bill, was hit with an AFPW attack ad. He survived the election. Other AFPW  targets, including Sen. Eric Oemig (D-45), did not.

The Democrats have a chance to challenge the Citizens United ruling. They should.

Washington State Wire reporter Erik Smith argues that the Democratic case against AFPW is flimsy in comparison to the charges against Moxie, hinting at a partisan smokescreen.

While I agree with Smith that the cases aren't the same and that the AFPW case hasn't risen to the level of the Moxie case yet, I think he's wrong to dismiss the charges.

Smith points out that, contrary to what Democrats say, AFWP filed campaign-finance papers with the PDC and reported its donors. But Smith is being disingenuous. AFPW filed after their mailers opposing Democrats went out (against commission rules), and they didn't disclose their donors until after the election (also against commission rules---and hardly helpful to voters.)

For me, the case against AFPW boils down to this: Are the Democrats right when they claim AFPW didn't disclose all its donors. AFPW eventually reported contributions of around $30,000, but Democrats estimate that the extent of the attack mail and other campaigning looks more like a $500,000 job.

If the PDC agrees with the Democrats' claim, they'll have to follow the money to the Koch group (the most likely funder)—setting up a standoff between the lax federal rules adopted under Citizens United, which allowed the Koch group to conceal its donors at the federal level, and our state's disclosure laws.

At that point, the Democrats would have a bigger request for AG McKenna. Never mind, cracking down on AFPW—Democrats could ask McKenna to challenge Citizens United itself.
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