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Ferguson campaign finance saga not quite over

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Ferguson campaign finance saga not quite over

Dec 07, 2023 | 7:45 pm ET
By Jerry Cornfield
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Ferguson campaign finance saga not quite over
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Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks to a reporter as his 2024 gubernatorial campaign launch event gets underway in Seattle, on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. ( Jerry Cornfield/Washington State Standard)

A state campaign watchdog put off action Thursday on a proposed deal to dismiss complaints against Attorney General Bob Ferguson stemming from his handling of $1.2 million of contributions to his gubernatorial campaign.

Had the Public Disclosure Commission approved the agreement reached between its staff and Ferguson it would have ended a monthslong probe begun after the Democratic candidate refused to reveal the source of the money he shifted from past campaigns into his current one.

Commissioners, after briefly deliberating behind closed doors, said a written decision would be issued by the end of the month.

The proposed eight-page agreement contains a stipulation of facts, a recommendation for dismissing the complaints and a finding that Ferguson – who has since disclosed the identity of donors – did not violate any state campaign finance laws. Ferguson campaign manager Wellesley Daniels and PDC Deputy Director Kim Bradford signed it.

Thursday’s development is the latest twist in a case that dates back to early May when Ferguson transferred $1.2 million of unspent “surplus” funds from previous campaigns into his new gubernatorial campaign account.

At the time, candidates could make such transfers from their surplus accounts into a campaign for a new office in a lump sum with permission from each affected donor. However, they did not have to disclose donor names or amounts of their contributions.

That changed on May 11. Commissioners, after a couple weeks of discussion, approved new guidance requiring candidates to identify the donors and treat their contributions as if they are for the candidate’s new campaign, making them subject to disclosure rules and contribution limits for the race.

A complaint filed by Tallman Trask of Seattle contended the rules should apply to the $1.2 million moved by Ferguson. The attorney general refused, saying he followed the rules in place at the time of the transfers. 

On Aug. 16, Ferguson relented, disclosing the donors in amended finance reports and also returning $86,000 to his surplus campaign account. His campaign also requested the commission end its investigation.

“Our reporting is now entirely consistent with the new interpretative guidance,” wrote Abbot Taylor, Ferguson’s campaign treasurer, on Aug. 17 to commission staff. “We trust the complaint will now be dismissed and this matter concluded.”