PDC issue looks like lethargy, not bias

The News TribuneJanuary 29, 2014 

The Public Disclosure Commission, that favorite whipping boy of Washington politics, is under attack again. Maybe for the wrong reason.

The five-member commission — which polices election spending — has long had a Democratic majority. That’s because Washington has long had a Democratic governor, and governors appoint the commissioners.

A group of Republican senators are complaining that the deck is stacked against GOP candidates.

They’ve introduced a bill — premature, in our view — aimed at “de-politicizing” the PDC. It would reconfigure the commission by patterning it after the state’s Redistricting Commission.

If enacted, the PDC — like the Redistricting Commission — would be jointly controlled by both parties. Each of the Legislature’s four caucus leaders would pick a member, creating a panel of two Republicans and two Democrats. They would have to mutually agree on a fifth tie-breaking member to serve as chairman.

That approach has been successful for the Redistricting Commission, which redraws the state’s legislative map every 10 years. Yes, it lets the two parties carve up the state as they see fit, but it also leaves each side sort of happy, and the public seems fine with it. By and large, the resulting maps are accepted as legitimate.

In some states where single parties dominate redistricting, they gleefully engage in political gerrymandering.

Before fixing the PDC, though, Republicans ought to produce more hard evidence that it’s actually broken. Right now their chief complaint revolves around a single case in which the commission moved with eerie and unaccustomed speed to absolve a big Democratic donation toward the end of last year’s battle royal over the 26th District’s Senate seat.

The commission did make the right call — but in a startling hurry. It usually dawdles for months after an election before reaching a finding.

The PDC shouldn’t be overhauled without more proof that it’s been violating its mandate for neutrality. But one part of the Republican complaint is thoroughly justified: The commission tends to render 21st century decisions at 19th century speeds.

While some complaints need extensive fact-finding, the PDC surely could settle more of them before election day. Once a violator wins office, the commission’s genteel, after-the-fact rap on the knuckle can be all but meaningless.

Instead of convicting the commission on what is so far thin evidence, lawmakers ought to nudge it into higher gear — and give it a bit more cash, if short-staffing is the problem.

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