Discover more from The Washington Observer
Firehose of cash flows through surplus loophole
Plus Facebook parent tries to invalidate campaign disclosure law
Campaign cash is just gushing through the Legislature’s surplus-funds loophole this month. Since the Aug. 3 primary, more than $2.3 million has moved from prominent lawmakers' largely nonexistent reelection campaigns into the hard-money political action committees controlled by the leaders of the four caucuses.
In the months ahead, look for those millions to get funneled into a handful of key races. Along with free-spending independent PACs, it’s part of a system that effectively swamps Washington’s theoretically stringent campaign finance restrictions.
We first wrote about this legalized money-laundering scheme way back in 2020 in the early days of the Observer’s existence. As we noted then, this is basically pure special-interest money, raised $1,000 at a time from willing donors eager to court influence with powerful committee chairs and leaders in the Legislature. Those leaders can then parcel the money out in chunks as large as $100K to help vulnerable incumbents or promising challengers.
For example, House Speaker Laurie Jinkins shifted $250,000 from her campaign account into the House Democratic Campaign Committee, according to a recent filing with the Public Disclosure Commission. Here’s a look at some of her top donors:
So that’s Big Labor, Amazon, the real estate empire of the late billionaire Paul Allen, and Big Beer. Jinkins, D-Tacoma, has basically zero chance of losing in an overwhelmingly safe district. The same is true of her seatmate, House Transportation Committee Chair Jake Fey, who dumped $125K into the same PAC. The Transportation Committee doles out billions in spending on highways, ferries, and transit; its leader typically has an easy time raising cash.
The surplus loophole is definitely a bipartisan thing. Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, the ranking Republican on Transportation, mildly bested Fey, dropping $130K into the House Republican Organizing Committee. Barkis didn’t draw an opponent this year, which left him free to raise money for others. Here’s the top of his list:
Nearly all of the surplus action since the primary has been on the Democratic side.
Republicans — particularly on the Senate side — made a big push to harvest that money before the primary to pay for aggressive early campaigns aimed at flipping control of one or both chambers to the GOP. More than $550K had been shuffled into the Senate Republican Campaign Committee before the primary, including $160K from Senate Majority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, and $150K from Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, who was the boss shuffler back when he was majority leader.
That campaign to target incumbent Democrats — including some in seemingly safe districts — largely fizzled. Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, who sponsored the capital gains tax the Legislature adopted last year, was one of those targets. After a convincing win in the primary, she dropped $80K on the Senate Democratic Campaign and $10K on the HDCC, a sign she’s feeling good about November.
From now until Election Day, we’ll see that money get parceled out to individual campaigns. The only big outgoing check from the caucus committees since the primary we’ve seen so far went from the SRCC to Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, for his challenge to Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, in the 26th District. Randall finished ahead in the primary but is still considered vulnerable. We’ll keep an eye on where the rest of the money winds up.
Facebook parent tries to gut campaign disclosure law
In the latest skirmish in its long war with the Public Disclosure Commission and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Facebook parent company Meta is trying to get a key part of Washington’s campaign finance law thrown out as unconstitutional.
Todd Bishop over at Geekwire has a good look at the legal argument, so we won’t delve too deeply into that here. What’s more interesting is Meta’s bald-faced intransigence on this issue.
In the first chapter of this argument, the company, then just called Facebook, tried the argument that it wasn’t a “commercial advertiser” for purposes of the law that has long required newspapers and television and radio stations to give the public access to details about the political ads they sell.The company, one of the dominant advertising platforms in the world, lost that specious argument and now deals with the problem by kinda-sorta not selling political advertising here.
In the current fight, which stems from the state’s allegation that the company is selling political ads and not offering proper disclosure, the company argues that the entire law should be tossed out because it would be too onerous for Facebook to keep track of all the political ads its robots would sell and disseminate in Washington. The company’s motion for summary judgment, authored by former Attorney General Rob McKenna,also dismisses the notion that how and on what political money gets spent is really not that important.
“It is hard to see why the electorate needs to know how sponsors pay for the advertisements or the demographics of the people who see them”, McKenna wrote, arguing that it’s really only important for voters to know who paid for the ads.
And if that’s not enough head-exploding patronizing for you, the company actually had the gall to invoke Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the get-out-of-jail-free card that shields Facebook and its ilk from virtually all of the legal accountability that applies to traditional publishers.
The case is currently in King County Superior Court, where Ferguson’s team enjoys a substantial home-court advantage. It’s frankly hard to see a Washington court, up to and including the Supremes, siding with Meta on this. The US. Supreme Court — let’s call them the Big Supremes — are a whole different pack of folks in black robes. To the extent the Facebooks of the world are open to regulation at all, they want it loose and federal.
Recommended Reading: The Money Hunt
If the Observer’s obsession with the Public Disclosure Commission’s data isn’t quite obsessive enough for you, we commend The Money Hunt. The author, who prefers to remain anonymous, is adept at writing code to automatically extract interesting nuggets of campaign finance information from the PDC’s database.
Thank you for your attention. The Morning Wire is the free midweek update from The Washington Observer and the Washington State Wire, which track politics, government, and the influence thereof in Washington State. It’s made possible by the Observer’s paid subscribers. To get access to subscriber-only content and the warm glow of supporting independent journalism, please consider joining them.
Because some of you are just here for the dog
This law, which is unique to Washington, is mostly used by journalists and campaign consultants to track television advertising in political campaigns. Among other things, it serves as an incentive for campaigns and PACs to disclose spending properly by creating a separate window into the process.
This ban is frequently defeated by consultants who have figured out how to beat Meta’s algorithms.
McKenna, who once took an oath to support the laws of Washington, now charges big bucks to help corporations and fat cats duck said laws.
That law, intended to protect fledgling service providers in the early days of the internet, effectively shields Facebook et al from any responsibility for what their users post. In a thoroughly Orwellian irony, it now lets companies print money by selling advertising against cesspools of defamation, misinformation, and abuse. If a newspaper or the Observer were to host such content, it would rightfully be sued out of existence.