A conservative activist registered two political action committees last month, using the names of groups that helped elect progressive candidates to the Whatcom County Council.
Drew Zinecker, 27, set up the PACs "Whatcom Wins" and "Whatcom Conservation Voters" on Jan. 15, according to Public Disclosure Commission records. Both names represent progressive organizations.
The interim director of Washington Conservation Voters said she is taking action to get Zinecker to stop using the name of her organization's local chapter. Lisa McShane, a Whatcom Wins organizer, acknowledged her group's name was not legally protected.
"I think it's a really silly tactic," McShane said. "If he wants to get our message of good environmental progress and protecting drinking-water quality out there, then he's welcome to do that."
Whatcom Wins was the arm of the Whatcom County Democrats that coordinated the campaigns of county council candidates Rud Browne, Barry Buchanan, Ken Mann and Carl Weimer. All four won, shifting the balance of the council to majority progressive. The Democrats have said they raised more than $180,000 for the Whatcom Wins campaigns.
Washington Conservation Voters spent more than $260,000 to get the same four men elected in November.
PDC records show Zinecker worked last year for conservative council candidates Kathy Kershner and Michelle Luke. They paid Zinecker $1,050, most of it for an advertisement that appeared on the Drudge Report website.
For his mailing address on the PAC registration forms, Zinecker used the address of the farm owned by Ben Elenbaas, another conservative who lost in last fall's county council elections.
Elenbaas said on Thursday, Feb. 13, that he gave Zinecker permission to use his address to receive mail, but he did not know Zinecker was starting PACs with his address.
"A few months ago, he asked if he could have some mail sent to our address since he would be in and out of the area for a bit. I said sure," Elenbaas said.
Zinecker knocked on doors last fall for conservative Whatcom County candidates. To explain why he would use his opponents' brands, Zinecker said simply that they were available.
"To my knowledge, Whatcom Conservation Voters was not an organization or PAC name that was filed with the PDC," Zinecker wrote Thursday in an email to The Bellingham Herald.
"Whatcom Wins was never filed with the PDC during or after the 2013 campaign," Zinecker added. "It is certainly a catchy name that was up for grabs."
It's also open to rebranding.
"Every citizen in Whatcom County wins," Zinecker wrote, "by keeping citizens engaged in creating family-wage jobs, being good stewards of land and fighting for agriculture."
Nothing in Zinecker's filing appeared out of order, said Lori Anderson, PDC communications and training officer.
"The only restriction in the statutes is, there can't be two political committees that have the same name," Anderson said.
Washington Conservation Voters hasn't filed a complaint with the PDC, interim Director Edie Gilliss said, but her group is "working with the PDC to rectify this problem."
"We certainly don't want anybody misleading voters or using our name to contact voters and engage in politics in Whatcom County using our name," Gilliss said.
"We've had to do things like cease-and-desist letters in the past," she said. "Whether this rises to that level remains to be seen."