OLYMPIA — The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) filed a complaint in Thurston County Superior Court today alleging campaign finance violations by Service Employees International Union Leadership Council 14, also known as SEIU Washington State Council.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson recused himself from any involvement in the matter.
The AGO received a Citizen Action Notice alleging multiple violations of the state’s public disclosure laws in April 2017.
After receiving the notice, the AGO determined Council 14 made significant campaign contributions but failed to register and report as a political committee in at least 2014 and 2016.
Washington law requires registration of a political committee when a person has the expectation of receiving contributions or making expenditures to support or oppose candidates or ballot propositions. The law requires these committees to regularly report information to the Public Disclosure Commission about sources of contributions, starting with those over $25. Political committees must also regularly report information about their activities, including expenditures, debts and in-kind contributions.
While Council 14 has its own registered political committee, the council itself also acted as a political committee. It had an expectation to, and did, make expenditures to support or oppose candidates and ballot propositions. In fact, it devoted a majority of its annual expenditures to electoral political activity during 2014 and 2016. However, Council 14 never registered or reported as a political committee, and never disclosed these contributions, debts and expenditures as required by law.
In 2014, Council 14 spent $902,005 on political contributions, 55 percent of its expenditures that year.
In 2016, Council 14 spent $2.25 million on political contributions, 74 percent of its expenditures and almost 95 percent of its income for that year.
By not registering as a political committee while operating as one, Council 14 inhibited the public’s right to know the source of its income and how it spent its funding. Council 14 had $1.66 million in receipts in 2014, and $2.36 million in 2016. Unlike registered political committees, it did not report the sources of these contributions.
The state seeks penalties and injunctive relief. Council 14 has 20 days from the date they are served to respond to the state’s complaint.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Linda Dalton is handling the case.
When the Attorney General’s Office receives a Citizen Action Notice, it has 45 days to investigate and respond to the citizen. If the Attorney General’s Office or local prosecutor does not initiate litigation, the individual may sue in the name of the state. If litigation is successful, any penalties awarded go to the state, and the individual’s attorney can recover attorney fees and costs. If the citizen’s litigation is unsuccessful, the defendant may recover attorney fees from the state.
The Attorney General’s Office enforces the state’s campaign finance disclosure law to ensure free, open and fair elections in Washington state. A summary of campaign finance case resolutions is available here.
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.
Brionna Aho, Interim Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; firstname.lastname@example.org