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Complaint about Whatcom County jail mailer still being investigated

The state Public Disclosure Commission is still investigating whether Whatcom County officials violated state law when they mailed an election flier about a proposed jail tax before the Nov. 3 vote.
The state Public Disclosure Commission is still investigating whether Whatcom County officials violated state law when they mailed an election flier about a proposed jail tax before the Nov. 3 vote. The Bellingham Herald

The Public Disclosure Commission won’t discuss Thursday whether Whatcom County officials violated state law when they mailed an election flier about a proposed jail sales tax.

Though the commission members had agreed Dec. 3 to hear further investigation in the case as soon as their Thursday, Jan. 28, meeting, the investigation is still going, according to PDC spokeswoman Lori Anderson. Once the investigation is done, the matter will go on the agenda.

The county sent a glossy four-page mailer, paid for with $28,452 in taxpayer money, to registered voters in the days that people were expected to get their November 2015 ballots.

The mailer featured pictures of the current and proposed Whatcom County Jail, and information about a proposed 0.2 percent sales tax increase to pay for the new facility.

Voters rejected the tax increase.

Fifteen people filed complaints with the PDC claiming various state laws had been broken in the process of making and distributing the flier.

Prior to the Dec. 3 meeting, staff for the commission —the state agency tasked with enforcing campaign finance law — had found that Whatcom County officials did not break the law.

But on Dec. 2, more information was submitted to the staff, including documentation that alleged campaign efforts were coordinated to pass the sales tax, according to PDC staff.

Five of the complaints were made under a 45-day citizen action system that requires rapid response, but staff said an attorney for some of those who filed the complaints verified it would be OK to miss that deadline as long as staff continued to make progress on the investigation.

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil

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