OLYMPIA - July 27, 1998 - In legal papers filed today, the state Attorney General's Office charges that the state Republican Party intentionally violated Washington's campaign finance law to purchase the so-called “Tell Gary Locke” television ad shortly before the 1996 general election. The GOP paid for the $150,000 ads from its “soft-money” account which, under Initiative 134, can only be used for expenses not directly associated with individual candidates.
“Our review of this case shows the Party intentionally ignored and violated the law,” said Chief Deputy Attorney General Kathleen Mix. “This was clearly a campaign ad against an opposing candidate and the law requires that only certain funds can be used for those purposes.”
To prevent one organization or individual from gaining an unreasonable advantage in elections, the law requires political parties to maintain separate accounts for contributions to the party. Contributions to “hard-money” accounts are limited and may be spent directly on political campaigns. There are no limits on the size of so-called “soft-money” contributions to the party, but those funds may only be tapped for general party activities such as get-out-the-vote campaigns and internal expenses.
The “tell Locke” ads ran statewide three weeks before the 1996 gubernatorial election. The commercial was critical of Democratic candidate Gary Locke's record on crime while he was a state legislator and King County Executive. Days later, the Party paid for another round of virtually identical ads that replaced the “tell Locke” references with the words “and now he wants to be our governor,” only this time it used “hard-money.”
The AG's action stems from a year-long investigation by the State Public Disclosure Commission which revealed multiple violations by the Party during the 1996 election cycle. The PDC filed charges on April 15, 1998. In order to settle the majority of those violations, the Party agreed to pay the state $5,000 in a fine and attorneys fees, and to transfer $147,000 from the Party's “hard money” campaign account to reimburse the more restricted “soft-money” account.
In a public hearing held last month on the remaining charges, the PDC found the Party illegally dipped into its soft-money account to purchase the “Tell Locke” commercial. The Commission concluded that its maximum penalty of $2,500 was insufficient and referred the case to the AG's Office for review and possible enforcement.
The state's action is in the form of a counterclaim to a Republican Party suit filed in King County Superior Court on Friday, July 17. In that suit, the Party is asking the court to declare "soft money" laws unconstitutional and to block further enforcement actions against the Party by the PDC or the Attorney General.
The AG's counterclaim seeks up to a $10,000 penalty for each time the ad was purchased, attorney's fees and punitive penalties which potentially could triple the amount of money the Party would pay.