Washington State Shines A Light

August 4, 2020

It's the first phase of Washington State elections today—what we call a primary. I have been getting election mailers from candidates, along with independent expenditures. Most individual campaigning seems insipid with appeals of helping schools, jobs and the usual. Then there are the mailers which are negative campaigning. These are from the committees, as it seems like most individual candidates try to avoid getting their hands dirty with the nasty-grams.

Washington law is really good about requiring disclosure from sponsors. I always look at who is paying for political advertising. This tells a lot about the agenda of the sponsors. I believe with our kind of nonpartisan ballots, public disclosure sends an important cue to voters as they decide how to mark their ballot.

Over the course of this election season, I will be looking at campaign ads; mostly from the point of how public disclosure is a healthy feature of our democratic process.

Below, I am sharing a statement by our legislature from last year. Olympia explicitly calls out the practice of “gray money” and “donor washing”. These are practices where special interests game the notion of transparency by providing fake or innocuous names of who is paying for political advertising. It’s a great couple of paragraphs—a noble sentiment:

Findings—Intent—2019 c 261: "The legislature finds that the public has the right to know who is contributing to election campaigns in Washington state and that campaign finance disclosure deters corruption, increases public confidence in Washington state elections, raises the level of debate, and strengthens our representative democracy.

The legislature finds that campaign finance disclosure is overwhelmingly supported by the citizens of Washington state as evidenced by the two initiatives that largely established Washington's current system. Both passed with more than seventy-two percent of the popular vote, as well as winning margins in every county in the state. One of the cornerstones of Washington state's campaign finance disclosure laws is the requirement that political advertisements disclose the sponsor and the sponsor's top five donors. Many political action committees have avoided this important transparency requirement by funneling money from political action committee to political action committee so the top five donors listed are deceptive political action committee names rather than the real donors. The legislature finds that this practice, sometimes called "gray money" or "donor washing," undermines the intent of Washington state's campaign finance laws and impairs the transparency required for fair elections and a healthy democracy.

Therefore, the legislature intends to close this disclosure loophole, increase transparency and accountability, raise the level of discourse, deter corruption, and strengthen confidence in the election process by prohibiting political committees from receiving an overwhelming majority of their funds from one or a combination of political committees." [ 2019 c 261 § 1.]

Thanks for reading — Krist Novoselić

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