How to find election, candidate records online

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 17, 2008 

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Want to know just how much money a political candidate has received from contributors? Want to know who those contributors are? In Washington state, a wealth of information is on the Internet.

The state’s Public Disclosure Commission was created to facilitate transparency in campaign financing and to enforce the state’s election laws. Nationwide, the Federal Election Commission is designed to do the same thing.

In Whatcom County, several people have taken advantage of the PDC’s and FEC’s resources to raise concerns about candidates’ campaign contributions and expenditures.

In 2007, complaints at the local and federal level were filed against Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike, City Councilman Terry Bornemann and his challenger, Bill Geyer, and Whatcom County Councilman Sam Crawford.

The complaints ranged from allegations of not filing timely contribution reports to contributions received from a foreign national or company, which is against U.S. election law. All investigations are ongoing.

Why are campaign contributions public records?

According to the Washington state law on campaign finance disclosure, legislators wanted to ensure that people can hold elected representatives accountable, and that in their dealings they are expected to have “integrity, honesty and fairness.”

What kind of resources does Washington have to find contributions?

The Washington state Public Disclosure Commission is the authority for public records at both the local and state level. Candidates must file reports at specific intervals and much of that information is posted on the Internet.

What about smaller campaigns or federal candidates?

Some information is filed at the city and county level, but all of that information is sent to the Public Disclosure Commission. At the national level, the Federal Election Commission’s Web site is a thorough resource for campaign finance records of federal candidates.

How often is the public disclosure Web site updated with information?

PDC staff are supposed to have records posted within seven days of receiving them from a candidate, but generally they’re posted either the same day or next day if they are received electronically.

Are there limits to the types and amounts of contributions a candidate can receive?

Yes, but it’s complicated because different types of elected positions have different rules. The PDC Web site covers the rules for candidates.

How can I find registered candidates?

On the Web site, click the “Public Resources” tab. From that page, you can find candidates registered by election year, search for detailed candidate contributions and their expenditures, and view images of the actual reports.

Reach SAM TAYLOR at sam.taylor@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2263. Read his Politics Blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/politics.

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