Democrats in Washington state, like their counterparts in the other Washington, don’t always think the law applies to them. They can create elaborate procedures to trip up Republicans in, say, election law. But those requirements are quite optional where they are concerned.
Part of this is they see themselves as the good guys, fighting for right – no matter how many jobs are lost, how much damage is done to the economy or how little the measure does to help the environment. If they have to bend a few rules to make it happen – hey, it was the right thing to do anyway.
Take Spokane’s Proposition 2, a November ballot measure that would fine natural resources companies that shipped certain types of coal and oil through the city’s downtown area. It’s billed as an environmental issue, but it would have negligible effects on the environment, would serve only to make a political statement – and an expensive one at that – against fossil fuels traveling through Washington state and is almost certainly not legal.
Political coalitions have formed on each side of the issue.
On one is the aptly named Committee to Protect Spokane’s Economy, which filed its paperwork Aug. 3 and did not accept donations until three weeks later, which exceeds the state requirement that committees wait two weeks after registering to receive contributions.
As a result of its own reporting, we know the group’s largest contributors are BNSF Railway, Union Pacific, Better Spokane Inc., Lighthouse Resources Inc., and Tesoro Savage.
All have various interests in promoting the jobs and economic opportunity that come with exporting energy resources to the Pacific Rim. Lighthouse owns coal mines in Montana and Wyoming. Tesoro is behind a proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver that would process 360,000 barrels per day and also is under attack from Washington’s Astroturf environmental movement. Better Spokane Inc. is led by local businessmen Michael Senske of Pearson Packaging, Ryan Gee of Gee Automotive and Fritz Wolff of The Wolff Co.
On the other side, which calls itself Safer Spokane, all we can see from above the surface is a few hearty activists hoping against hope to defy the Commerce Clause and various other federal trade laws for negligible benefit and the hapless retired accountant who functions as their treasurer but supposedly did not realize political committees had to file campaign finance reports.
That and the fact that somehow the group has received just $4,800 in donations and spent less than $2,000, but it has billboards up all over town that cost at least $1,500 per month.
And we wouldn’t even know that, but folks on the other side – in this case the Seattle Home Builders Association – got tired of waiting for the group to follow the law and filed a complaint with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission, the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office and the Washington Attorney General’s Office demanding Safer Spokane report its contributions.
The group was supposed to have filed monthly reports on contributions and expenses from last November through June, then weekly reports after June. But it had filed nothing until a giant document dump, prompted by the complaint, on Sept. 13 – which has been followed by the group’s incorporation papers being refiled in early October.
Safer Spokane’s belated paperwork listed contributions dating back to November 2016 – a clear violation of the requirement that paperwork be filed before contributions are accepted.
The group still has not identified its five largest contributors, as required by state law. The Spokane Firefighters, a public-sector union that typically spends thousands of dollars to help elect Democrat candidates, claimed it helped pay for the billboards. But how much it helped and how much was spent remain mysteries.
“It’s a lack of experience on my part, is pretty much all it is,” said Mike Bell, the group’s treasurer said. This is an odd excuse given he is a retired – so presumably experienced – accountant.
This happens a lot in these contests. On one side are the business and energy interests, who advocate for their cause but do so publicly and according to law. On the other are groups that claim they are too small to find a good accountant who can meet the filing deadlines, but, because they are in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, never have to get around to saying who exactly is behind their operation.
The problem is Safer Spokane essentially already has gotten away with the crime of concealing where its support comes from. We’re within three weeks of Election Day. The opponents’ filings are accurate, their donors identified, their agenda well known to the voters. But if big-name progressives or others who prioritize their bottom lines over the economic health of Spokane are involved, we’ll never know.
What we do know is the Democrats in Olympia will protect the Democrats in Spokane until the clock runs out. Because that’s the way it’s always been.