Oct. 14, 2015
AG files campaign finance complaint against Freedom Foundation
The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) today announced that it has filed a complaint in Thurston County Superior Court alleging campaign finance violations by the Freedom Foundation. Specifically, the AGO alleges that the Freedom Foundation failed to properly and timely file independent expenditure reports disclosing the value of the legal services it provided to support ballot propositions in the cities of Sequim, Chelan and Shelton, as required under the state’s campaign finance laws.
“Transparency in elections is vital to the integrity of our democracy,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. “I am committed to holding all parties accountable for disclosing timely information, so voters can make fully informed decisions.”
In February 2015 the AGO received a Citizen Action Complaint from the Committee for Transparency in Elections (CFTE) alleging multiple violations of the state’s public disclosure laws by the Freedom Foundation. An AGO investigation determined the majority of the allegations did not constitute violations of state law. However, the Freedom Foundation violated the requirement to report, as an independent expenditure, the value of time the staff spent on litigation to place propositions on the ballots in the three cities. The total value of staff time has not yet been determined.
In 2014, the Freedom Foundation staff created a set of sample ordinances and ballot propositions to change local laws related to collective bargaining between municipalities and their employee bargaining representatives. These drafts were made publicly available via the Freedom Foundation’s website.
Using the draft documents from the website, community activists from Sequim, Chelan and Shelton gathered signatures from citizens in their communities and filed ballot propositions with their respective county auditor or clerk offices. None of the ballot propositions were accepted for submission to voters.
In response, the Freedom Foundation staff, as counsel for the community activists, filed separate lawsuits against those cities, requesting that the courts order the propositions be placed on their corresponding ballots. Throughout the lawsuits, the Freedom Foundation paid their staff attorney his normal salary, and the community activists did not pay the Freedom Foundation or its staff for legal counsel.
Between Dec. and March 2015 each case was dismissed by the respective superior court. No appeals were taken from any of the dismissals.
The state seeks penalties and injunctive relief.
A copy of the response to the CFTE complaint to the Attorney General’s Office can be found here. A copy of the AGO’s complaint filed today can be found here. The Attorney General’s Office enforces the state’s campaign finance disclosure law to ensure free, open and fair elections in Washington state.