OLYMPIA —The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) announced that it filed two separate complaints in Thurston County Superior Court today, alleging campaign finance violations by the Washington State Budget and Policy Center and a 2016 candidate for the Thurston County Board of Commissioners.
James Cooper allegedly used campaign funds for personal use, and concealed the true identity of contributors to the Thurston County Democratic Central Committee by improperly transferring campaign contributions to another political committee.
In a separate action, the Budget and Policy Center is accused of failing to properly report its independent expenditures in opposition to Initiative 1366 in 2015.
James Cooper, Friends of Jim Cooper
In October 2016, the AGO received a Citizen Action Notice from Glen Morgan, alleging multiple violations of the state’s campaign disclosure laws by Cooper and his political committee, Friends of Jim Cooper. Among a variety of other allegations, the notice accused Cooper and the committee of using campaign funds to make contributions to a political party.
Following AGO and PDC staff review of the allegations, it was determined that Cooper improperly used $1,300 in campaign funds for 12 tickets to the Thurston County Democratic Central Committee’s Kennedy Dinner in May 2016. The ticket price included a contribution to the committee.
Washington State Budget and Policy Center
The Center is a public policy focused organization that conducts research and prepares materials to inform journalists and members of the public about various policy matters. The Center’s aims include educating the public, the media, and public officials about topics of importance to the Center, including proposed legislation, ballot propositions, budgetary matters, and other policy issues.
In the run-up to the 2015 general election, Center staff produced a series of website postings and editorials critical of Initiative 1366, which would have decreased the sales tax rate unless the Legislature referred a constitutional initiative to voters requiring two-thirds legislative approval or voter approval to raise taxes.
The Center also criticized the initiative via its Facebook page and website with posts created by Center staff while being paid by the Center.
For example, the Center’s communications manager wrote in an article published on the Center’s website on July 30, 2015, that I-1366 was “blackmailing the state into policies that would threaten its long-term economic growth.” She argued that the initiative “would jeopardize Washington’s future in several ways.”
The Center also used its funds and staff time to support pre-election litigation to invalidate I-1366 and prevent a public vote.
While the Center appropriately reported expenditures and in-kind contributions opposing other initiatives, it did not disclose its contributions in opposition to I-1366. These types of activities are either in-kind contributions or independent expenditures in opposition to the initiative, and here, should have been disclosed to the PDC.
The state seeks penalties and injunctive relief in both cases. The defendants will have 20 days from the date they are served to respond to the state’s complaint.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Linda Dalton and Assistant Attorney General Walter Smith are handling both cases.
When the Attorney General’s Office receives a Citizen Action Notice, it has 45 days to investigate and respond to the sender. If the office does not start litigation, the sender may sue in the name of the state. If litigation is successful, any penalties awarded would go to the state, and an attorney for the sender could recover attorney fees and costs.
The Attorney General’s Office enforces the state’s campaign finance disclosure law to ensure free, open and fair elections in Washington state. Since becoming Attorney General, Attorney General Ferguson has devoted more agency resources to campaign finance casework.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov