Hover, Branch are leading fundraisers

By Marcy Stamper

With just over five weeks until Election Day, the four candidates for the two open Okanogan County commissioner seats have raised almost $70,000 and spent $39,000.

The most expensive race is the District 2 contest between Andy Hover and Ashley Thrasher, with Hover bringing in almost $27,000, the highest contributions of all four candidates. Thrasher has raised $15,500.

In the District 1 contest between Chris Branch and incumbent Sheilah Kennedy, Branch raised just over $18,000 and Kennedy raised $9,000. More than half of Kennedy’s total came from a personal contribution she made of $5,000.

Candidates are required to file contribution and expenditure forms weekly with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission.

As of last week, Hover reported spending just over $4,700 on newspaper and radio advertising. Other expenses were for tent rental and catering for a political event, yard signs and printing.

Most of Thrasher’s expenditures went to yard signs and bumper stickers, at almost $4,900. She spent about $3,300 on newspaper and radio ads.

Branch put slightly more money toward printing and mailing brochures, at just over $3,000. He reported $2,900 in advertising expenses.

Kennedy spent $2,805 on advertising and a just over $200 on brochures.

Candidates are also permitted to pay the $648 candidate filing fee with contributions. All but Thrasher reported this on their expenditure form.

The majority of Hover’s contributions came from people and businesses with Winthrop addresses, while Thrasher’s contributions were fairly evenly divided between people in Twisp and Winthrop. All candidates also reported contributions from people outside Okanogan County.

Kennedy’s largest contributor — after herself — was the Okanogan County Republican Party, which gave her $2,500. The largest donation to the three other candidates was $1,000. None of them has reported financial support from a political party.

In her initial candidate registration in March, Kennedy chose mini-reporting because she did not intend to spend more than $5,000 during the entire campaign. She filed an updated form requiring full reporting at the end of August when she decided she would exceed the $5,000 threshold. The August update also named a new campaign manager, Jeff Brender, who replaced Nicole Kuchenbuch.

ROC files financial reports

Represent Okanogan County (ROC), the nonprofit organization formed to do voter education, registration and encourage participation, filed as a political committee at the end of August. ROC voluntarily registered as a committee to allow the group the option “to speak out openly and directly about the need to elect new Commissioners,” according to the statement issued by the group at the beginning of August.

Kennedy’s former campaign manager, Kuchenbuch, filed a complaint with the PDC in June charging that ROC was required to file as a political committee because the group was advocating for “new county commissioners.”

In a response to the commission in June, ROC’s attorney asserted that the group’s fundraising supported its public-participation and voter-registration work and that no expenditures supported or opposed individual candidates. Nevertheless, ROC agreed to file the report “in the spirit of cooperation and transparency.”

In the disclosure reports filed with the PDC in August and September, ROC reported contributions of $10,200 and expenditures of $6,300. Almost $4,000 was spent on newspaper and radio advertising and another $1,000 on billboards and T-shirts.

Two staff members at the PDC were still reviewing ROC’s financial reports as of last week, according to Lori Anderson, a spokesperson for the commission.

If they find that ROC should have disclosed its fundraising activities earlier, the staff will decide whether the violations were minor and therefore resolved by the filing of the financial reports. In that case, there would be no further action, said Anderson. If a more significant violation is found, the case would be brought before the commission itself, which can decide to issue an enforcement action or penalty.

In determining whether there has been any violation, the main questions are, “What didn’t the public know and when didn’t they know it? How significant are the actions in terms of the current campaigns?” said Anderson.

Solely raising money and advertising does not automatically make a group a political committee if influencing an election is not one of its primary purposes, said Anderson.