State campaign finance watchdog says ROC met requirements
By Marcy Stamper
The state agency that provides public information about election finances has determined that Represent Okanogan County (ROC) satisfied requirements by filing contribution and expenditure reports. The Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) closed the matter last week without a more formal investigation.
“Once PDC staff informed ROC of staff’s conclusion that it was a political committee, ROC filed the required reports,” wrote Philip Stutzman, a senior compliance officer with the PDC in an Oct. 6 letter.
In the letter to Nicole Kuchenbuch, the president of the Okanogan County Farm Bureau who filed a complaint against ROC in June, Stutzman said while ROC had filed the reports late, the group did not initially understand that its activities made it a political committee and created a filing requirement.
Kuchenbuch’s complaint alleged that by placing ads and signs that read, “Wanted: New County Commissioners,” ROC’s activities were not purely educational, since the group was advocating replacement of the incumbent commissioners.
“We are extremely pleased with the PDC’s findings and decision not to investigate further and to close the case,” said Gay Northrup, ROC’s chair, in a statement about the PDC decision. “I think this is due to ROC’s care in focusing on issues important to County residents in all of our public communications rather than on candidate opposition.”
After PDC staff requested that ROC register as a political committee and report contributions and expenditures, ROC filed the required forms and reports at the end of August, two months before the November general election, wrote Stutzman. ROC is a first-time committee with no previous warnings or violations of the state’s campaign filing requirements, he said.
An attorney for ROC told the PDC in August that they still believed they did not meet the definition of a political committee because their activities were devoted to voter education and encouraging civic participation. But the attorney said they were willing to file in a spirit of cooperation and transparency and out of over-abundance of caution, according to Stutzman.
Becoming a political committee has been a boon, said Northrup. “We now have the option to openly oppose candidates so, in fact, Ms. Kuchenbuch’s complaint actually helped to put a new tool in our ROC toolbox,” she wrote.
ROC filed itemized reports with the PDC for more than $10,000 in contributions, with names of contributors and amounts for all but $1,250. ROC was not able to identify all the sources of contributions, some of which were made through an online fundraising platform, and therefore exceeded the $300 limit for anonymous contributions. ROC agreed to forfeit $950, which will go into Washington’s general fund, according to a PDC spokesperson.
As of this week, ROC has reported $10,200 in contributions and $6,300 in expenditures. Almost $4,000 was spent on newspaper and radio advertising and another $1,000 on billboards and T-shirts.
Since forming in the summer of 2015, ROC has engaged in activities to educate the public, encourage participation in county affairs, and to make county government transparent and accountable. ROC provides educational material about the role of a county commissioner and registered new voters. The group publishes accounts of commissioners’ meetings from notes taken by volunteers.
“The impact of ROC will go beyond the current election. Okanogan residents have been re-energized and are excited about once again participating in determining their leadership on all levels,” said Northrup.
“Actually, our decision to report as a political committee helped ROC to further highlight the county’s lax management of finances, the incumbents’ governance by litigation and the incumbents’ placement of personal ideological pursuits before consideration for the health and well being of residents,” said Northrup.
Kuchenbuch could not be reached for comment about the PDC’s decision.
The PDC was formed in 1972 by voter initiative to provide timely and meaningful public access to accurate information about the financing of political campaigns, lobbyist expenditures, and the financial affairs of public officials and candidates. The commission provides guidelines for candidates and political committees about their requirements under state law. It also maintains a database where the public can look up information about campaign spending, including lists of contributors, the amount they gave, and how the candidate spent the money. Its website is www.pdc.wa.gov.