Freedom Foundation did not report legal services it provided to support ballot propositions, a violation of campaign finance laws
OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced that a Thurston County Superior Court judge ordered the Freedom Foundation to pay $80,000 over its campaign finance violations. This recovery will go into the state Public Disclosure Transparency Account, which funds enforcement of campaign finance laws.
The judgment is a result of Ferguson’s 2015 lawsuit asserting 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.
In January of this year, a judge agreed with Ferguson that the Freedom Foundation violated state campaign finance laws.
“Freedom Foundation spent years fighting against their obligation to disclose their participation in ballot measures,” Ferguson said. “This judgment makes clear that Washington state will not tolerate any attempts to hide information from Washington voters. Washingtonians deserve complete information about who funds the measures on their ballots.”
In 2014, 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 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. The city councils in each location decided not to place the measures before local voters, and none of the ballot propositions were locally enacted.
In response, Freedom Foundation staff served as counsel for the community activists and filed separate lawsuits against those cities. The lawsuits requested 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. Providing this legal counsel at no cost to the community activists constitutes an independent expenditure, which should have been reported to the Public Disclosure Commission under state law.
By not reporting its contributions to these efforts, Ferguson’s lawsuit asserts, the Freedom Foundation inhibited the public’s right to know the source of funds supporting these proposed ballot measures.
The Freedom Foundation sought to have the case dismissed, but the state Court of Appeals, Division 2, unanimously ruled the case could proceed.
In January 2019, the Washington Supreme Court upheld the appeals court ruling and ordered the matter returned to the trial court for further proceedings.
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, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.firstname.lastname@example.org
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