Local Election

2 groups accused of hiding campaign donors in local races

Two groups are being accused of hiding their financial backers while circulating campaign ads in three Puget Sound legislative races.

A campaign finance complaint has been lodged against Working America, a group supporting several Democratic candidates, over not registering as a political committee in Washington state and for not disclosing its top five contributors in its ads. Working America has distributed fliers backing state Senate candidates Tami Green, D-Lakewood; Shari Song, D-Federal Way; and Matt Isenhower; D-Redmond.

Meanwhile, two other PDC complaints target Enterprise Washington, a pro-business group, for allegedly shuffling money between two political action committees to avoid disclosing its donors in TV ads opposing Green.

State law requires independent expenditure committees to identify their top five donors in any political ads they buy.

Dmitri Iglitzin, a Seattle lawyer who represents progressive and labor groups, said Enterprise Washington transferred money between two of its PACs to skirt that requirement in ads it bought attacking Green and supporting her opponent, Republican state Sen. Steve O’Ban of Tacoma.

Iglitzin said Enterprise Washington moved money from its main fundraising arm, JobsPAC, to another PAC called People for Jobs, which bought the TV ads in Pierce County’s 28th Legislative District. JobsPAC is the sole contributor to People for Jobs.

Iglitzin said the transfer looks to be designed so that Enterprise Washington’s JobsPAC would appear as the sole financial contributor at the end of the ads, instead of JobsPAC’s top donors, which include The Washington Association of Realtors, Puget Sound Energy, an insurance company PAC, and groups representing the Washington Restaurant Association and the building industry.

“It appears that People for Jobs was created solely so JobsPAC could make political expenditures while concealing the identity of its top five contributors and other sources of funding,” Iglitzin wrote in the PDC complaint.

A reporter’s message left at Enterprise Washington’s headquarters wasn’t returned Monday.

In a separate complaint filed in August, Iglitzin said Enterprise Washington’s JobsPAC used the same tactic to conceal donors in ads supporting Republican candidate Monique Trudnowski, a Tacoma restaurateur who lost in the primary.

The allegations against Working America are farther-reaching. Two citizens living in the 45th Legislative District contacted the PDC to complain about uniformed representatives of Working America campaigning for Isenhower and distributing fliers endorsing him over his opponent, Republican state Sen. Andy Hill of Redmond.

Campaign fliers paid for by Working America also have appeared in the 28th Legislative District to endorse Green over O’Ban, and in the 30th Legislative District to endorse Song over her Republican opponent, former state Rep. Mark Miloscia of Federal Way.

According to the complaint, the group is not registered as a political committee in Washington, which the complaint alleges is a violation of state law. The complaint also criticizes Working America’s fliers for identifying the group’s office in Washington, D.C., as the sole sponsor of the campaign ads, with no additional donors listed.

Renee Ruiz, the Washington state program director for Working America, said that because the group is a non-profit labor organization whose primary purpose isn’t campaigning or fundraising, it doesn’t have to register as a political committee with the state Public Disclosure Commission. The group has filed independent expenditure reports totaling $160,000, though those contributions don’t show up in the PDC’s searchable database of campaign expenditures.

The organization has been paying for its political work using its own treasury funds, Ruiz wrote in an email.

“Our primary purpose is to promote the interests of members through advocating for laws and policies that are important to working families,” Ruiz wrote.

In an email to the PDC, citizen complainant K-Y Su of Kirkland said “no reasonable person could interpret this as other than a boldly intentional and knowingly-deliberate evasion of the law.” Su cited Working America’s affiliation with the AFL-CIO, a politically active federation of labor unions, as evidence that the group should be aware of the need to register as a political committee in Washington.

This story has been corrected to reflect that Working America has filed reports of its independent spending with the state Public Disclosure Commission, and to add a statement from the group explaining it is a nonprofit labor organization, not a political action committee.