In State v. Evergreen Freedom Foundation, the Washington Supreme Court holds independent expenditure reporting requirements in Washington’s Fair Campaign Practices Act apply to “expenditures [made] prior to signature gathering, regardless of when they are gathered, but only if the measure is actually filed with an election official.” There, Evergreen Freedom Foundation created sample ordinances and local ballot propositions to advance its policies before city councils. Using the forms, local proponents submitted proposed measures to election officers in the cities of Sequim, Chelan and Shelton, along with supporting signatures. None of the cities passed the measures as ordinances or placed them on the ballot. The proponents sued, the Foundation’s attorneys represented them, and they lost. But that did not end the matter. The Washington Attorney General received a citizens’ complaint alleging the Foundation failed to report as independent expenditures the value of the legal services it provided. After investigation, the Attorney General brought this enforcement action.
Citizens are demanding an increasingly open government, and campaign finance databases are helping states to provide a more convenient level of access. While the public once needed to visit elections offices in person to peruse campaign finance disclosures, now it can happen with a keystroke.
In Washington State, the Public Disclosure Commission is leading the effort to increase transparency in campaign finance disclosure, and the Commission’s website is the vehicle for disclosing that information to the public.
The commission obtains campaign finance reports from candidates and political action committees, populates the database, and posts the database on its website. Visitors to the site can learn more about money entering campaigns and how it is spent, and they can gather information on candidates, political action committees, individual donors, and lobbyists. The site also allows visitors to link directly to the actual submitted reports. You can find the database here: www.pdc.wa.gov/MvcQuerySystem