Campaign finance complaint: Shell entity hid contributors to robocalls
Last year, just before the November general election, Thurston County’s race for County Board of Commissioners (District 1) was rocked by a series of dramatic news stories. First, the Olympian reported that a political committee or “PAC” conducted a series of robocalls including attack messaging against candidate Jim Cooper. The name of the PAC was “Friends of Jimmy,” which was reportedly sponsored by another PAC called “We Want to Be Friends of Jimmy Too.” The article reflects that Cooper and his opponent, John Hutchings, both denied any connection to the PAC. But wait; why did Cooper even need to be asked whether he sponsored the robocalls that attacked his own candidacy? Perhaps because his candidate authorized committee, “Friends of Jim Cooper,” sounded so similar to the PACs that sponsored the robocalls against him. But more on that below.
Later, the Olympian would go on to report that a person who managed the PACs and their robocall campaign had, unfortunately, received a death threat, and had been sued by private citizens over the unwanted robocalls. After the election, the same person began filing a series of campaign finance complaints that were followed by state government lawsuits against not only Jim Cooper but many other Democratic candidates and party organizations as well. He was even quoted in the newspaper as saying that “everybody is in violation” of Washington’s campaign finance laws.
Today, Smith & Dietrich Law Offices notified state officials that Glen Morgan, manager of the PACs that attacked Jim Cooper, and filer of numerous campaign finance complaints starting in late 2016, apparently violated Washington’s campaign finance law prohibiting concealment of political expenditures and contributions. Our notice was based entirely on information in the public domain accessible to anyone with an internet connection. The violation was, in short, that he created two PACs ahead of the 2016 general election which were deceptively named as though they supported the opponent against which they would operate: Jim Cooper. He then used one of the PACs to obtain political contributions from various donors, sent that money to the second PAC, and used it to sponsor robocall attack ads. Doing this allowed him to effectively hide the individual contributors to the second PAC from the public; only a diligent researcher who located the first PAC would be able to piece together that they had funded the calls. This allowed the funders of his negative robocalling campaign to hide from the full public airing of their sponsorship required by law. A copy of our citizen action notice is here (and you can view the attachments here).
The notice we filed today follows a similar complaint filed by another member of the public with the Public Disclosure Commission before election day. No known action has occurred to date to remedy Mr. Morgan and his two PACs’ violations of the campaign finance laws; apparently, the complaint was returned with no action days ago. Now, state authorities have a statutory deadline of September 18, 2017 to investigate the allegations. The irony of this situation is likely lost on no one: the same activist who stated that “everybody is in violation” has himself been caught in an intentional violation of the same law he has so vigorously used against others. We will provide an update concerning the notice once the position of the Attorney General’s Office is clear.
At Smith & Dietrich Law Offices, we believe that the campaign finance laws should be used as they were intended, to improve public understanding of the funding of political contests. If you are involved in a political campaign or committee and would like to discuss reporting or compliance duties under Washington law, allegations of campaign finance violations, or how to respond to a complaint or citizen action notice, contact us here.