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Candidates must reveal donors of money shifted to new campaigns


Candidates must reveal donors of money shifted to new campaigns

May 25, 2023 | 5:40 pm ET
By Jerry Cornfield
Candidates must reveal donors of money shifted to new campaigns
(Getty Images)

Editor’s note: Following publication, officials of the Public Disclosure Commission indicated commissioners left the door open for retroactivity. They also said PDC staff “is advising campaigns to amend past reports to identify the sources of any surplus funds transferred with permission from past campaigns for a different office. Those contributions are subject to contribution limits.” 

Candidates who shift unspent funds from prior races into new campaigns must disclose the source of those dollars, the state’s campaign finance watchdog decided Thursday.

The Public Disclosure Commission voted unanimously to require candidates to identify the donors and treat their contributions as if they are for the candidate’s new campaign, making them subject to disclosure and contribution limits for the race.

Commissioners agreed May 11 on the gist of the change and on Thursday adopted the specific language guiding campaigns going forward. The decision applies to the surplus funds of all candidates.

Open government advocates pushed for the revision, arguing voters could not learn fully about a political hopeful’s funding because the rules allowed lump-sum transfers of surplus funds, hiding donors and amounts. 

Commissioners did not act on requests to apply the change retroactively which could crimp Democratic Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s fundraising for his gubernatorial campaign.

He had raised close to $2.2 million Thursday. Of that, roughly $1.3 million came from his surplus account. Theoretically, if he had to identify contributions, some donors might be maxed out and unable to give him any more for 2024.

Prior to the meeting, Ferguson had repeatedly said he would strictly follow the new guidance regarding his remaining surplus funds.

Officials with the campaign of Hilary Franz, the Democratic commissioner of public lands who is also running for governor, asked commissioners to apply the change retroactively. 

“This step is needed to ensure that longstanding statutory requirements are equitably and consistently enforced,” the group Friends of Hilary Franz wrote in public comments submitted to the board. “We are not asking that any campaign be sanctioned for past transfers under the prior agency guidelines so long as those transferred contributions are now reported under the agency’s clarified interpretation and subject to contribution limits.”

Franz had reported no campaign contributions as of Thursday. She has $26,568 in her surplus fund.

Commissioners steered clear of the issue when told two recently filed complaints are related to the rules for handling of surplus funds.

One, filed May 19, alleges Ferguson failed to provide information on contributors of surplus he moved to the governor’s race. The primary evidence is a link to a news account of transfers made by the attorney general ahead of the May 11 meeting.

The other, filed May 4, involves Zachary Zappone, a Spokane City Council candidate. He is alleged to have improperly moved unspent funding from a prior legislative campaign into his current council bid.

PDC staff are in the process of gathering information in both cases.