Defendants gave false information to state investigators
OLYMPIA — A Thurston County Superior Court judge ruled that a former Grant County Superior Court judge and Moses Lake business owner violated Washington campaign finance law numerous times when they sent a 2014 mailer in the election for Grant County prosecutor, and concealed that they were the source.
The state Public Disclosure Commission raised concerns about “what appear to be incomplete, deceptive, or untrue answers to staff's questions” by Jerry Moberg and Ken Greene, and referred the case to the Attorney General’s Office.
Judge John Skinder granted partial summary judgment in Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s campaign finance lawsuit against Moberg and Greene. The judge ruled that Moberg and Greene violated the law by concealing their sponsorship of a political mailer and for failing to register and report as a political committee. The judge also ruled that Greene unlawfully used an assumed name to identify the sponsor of an electioneering communication.
“If you violate campaign finance laws and lie to the state about your conduct, you can expect to be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” Ferguson said. “Dark money has no place in Washington elections.”
The judge’s ruling establishes that Moberg and Greene broke the law. The trial set for Feb. 24 will determine the penalties for their violations.
The Attorney General’s Office will argue that Greene and Moberg intentionally concealed Moberg’s role in the mailer, and ask for the penalty for those violation to be tripled. If the court agrees, Green and Moberg could face penalties up to a total of $319,326.30, plus costs and fees.
“Grant County Concerned Voters”
In 2014, incumbent Angus Lee ran against challenger Garth Dano for Grant County Prosecutor. Dano eventually won the election.
Around Oct. 11, 2014, a negative mailer arrived at voters’ homes attacking Dano’s character and endorsing Lee. The flyer identified “Grant County Concerned Voters” as the sponsor. No such group ever registered with the PDC or filed any reports, meaning that no public information was available to determine who was behind the mailing and how much they spent.
The PDC received complaints about the mailer and launched an investigation.
The PDC investigation uncovered email communications between Greene, Moberg and the South Dakota-based printer they worked with to print and send the 12,000 mailers. In a Sept. 30, 2014 email, Moberg approved the printer’s quote for $3,872.10, but instructed the company to send the invoice to Greene. Moberg wrote that Greene “will forward you a signed check for the amount due. Those funds will be available for withdrawal tomorrow by noon Pacific Standard Time.”
At the time Moberg sent his email, bank records show Greene’s account balance was $91.37.
On Oct. 1, 2014, Moberg wrote a check to himself from his law firm’s account, cashed the check and provided the cash to Greene. The same day, Greene deposited $4,000 in cash to his account.
Also the same day, Moberg — not Greene — sent an email to the printer with a scanned copy of a check from Greene authorizing the $3,872.10 payment for printing and mailing.
On or about Oct. 11, 2014 — three weeks before the election — thousands of Grant County voters received the mailer Moberg and Greene created.
When the PDC reached out to Greene in September of 2015 to notify him of the investigation, “Greene initially refused to disclose his or Moberg’s involvement with the Dano mailer. Instead, Greene demanded an explanation of how the PDC staff came to associate him with the Dano mailer,” the judge wrote.
Greene and Moberg later responded in writing through their attorney. In his ruling, the judge wrote, “Significantly, their January 22, 2016 letter to the PDC omitted Moberg’s role in providing the funds needed for the Dano mailer and instead represented that ‘Ken Greene was the sole decision-maker and financial contributor.’”
Later, the state deposed Greene and Moberg during which Greene and Moberg repeated this claim under oath.
“While under oath, each defendant represented that no one other than Green had any role in paying for the Dano mailer, and that Moberg, in particular, did not help pay for the mailer,” the judge wrote. “More than two months later, after the PDC had requested and obtained a copy of Greene’s bank statement, which showed that a $4,000 deposit had occurred on October 1, 2014, defendants’ then counsel revealed to the PDC that Moberg was in fact the source of the funds used to pay for the Dano mailer.”
Multiple violations of the law
Judge Skinder found that Greene and Moberg violated Washington’s campaign finance laws in multiple ways.
- The court ruled that Greene and Moberg had formed a political committee, but failed to register or file any reports. The court found seven legal violations related to the failure to register, and state law allows a penalty of up to $10,000 per violation. The court also found the reports are now a total of 9,464 days late. State law allows a penalty up to $10 per day for each day a report was late. For these violations, Greene and Moberg face penalties up to $164,640.
- Both Greene and Moberg concealed Moberg as the true source of the $4,000 contribution to their political committee, and the committee’s expenditure to pay for the mailer. For concealing the $4,000 payment made by Moberg to Greene, Greene and Moberg each face up to a $10,000 penalty plus the $4,000 concealed.
- Greene concealed the source of the $3,872.10 payment for the mailer. For this, Greene faces another $10,000 penalty, plus the $3,872.10 concealed.
- Greene and Moberg failed to report their mailer as an “electioneering communication.” That represents one legal violation, and state law allows a penalty of up to $10,000 per violation. The report was 1,907 days late as of Friday’s ruling. State law allows a penalty of up to $10 per day for each day a report was late. For this, Greene and Moberg face penalties up to $29,070.
At trial, the Attorney General’s Office will argue that the concealment violations were intentional. Under state law, if the court finds that the unlawful conduct was intentional, penalties can be tripled.
Assistant Attorneys General Todd Sipe and Martha Rodríguez López handled the case for the state.
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