Dirty tricks in politics have been around since people started holding elections.
But, as a society, we have an obligation to do as much as possible to curb the use of sleazy, unethical tactics.
Washington state has laws in place aimed at forcing politicians and political handlers to campaign in the open. Specifically, public disclosure rules call on political groups to disclose who is backing their campaigns.
Unfortunately, sometimes the public disclosure rules - and the fines for violating the those rules - are not enough.
That's the situation in an apparent rule violation considered by the Public Disclosure Commission on Thursday. The three-member Commission rejected a deal with Lisa MacLean of Moxie Media and instead asked Attorney General Rob McKenna to bring civil action against MacLean. Commissioner Jane Noland specifically asked McKenna to "explore all remedies" including those available under a state statute that sets out when a court can overturn an election.
In short, the PDC is taking this matter very seriously. It should.
MacLean represented liberal Democrat-leaning groups aiming to replace state Sen. Jean Berkey, a Democrat, because she was thought to be too conservative. Moxie Media set out to promote the candidacy of Democrat Nick Harper by creating political action committees aimed at having conservative candidate Rod Rieger finish ahead of Berkey in the primary. This would - and did - create a scenario in which the defeat of Berkey would make it easier for Harper to win in November. Berkey was the only incumbent defeated in the August primary.
The Associated Press reported the effort was supported by unions representing state employees, teachers and health care workers who donated close to $300,000, which went to the Stand Up For Citizens political action committee. The PDC staff report said that MacLean created two new political action committees (Cut Taxes PAC and Conservative PAC ) and received verbal promises from the Washington State Labor Council, the Washington Federation of State Employees and the Washington State Association for Justice to cover the $9,000 cost of two mailers and a round of automated phone calls.
The pledges were not disclosed as is required by law. The report found that MacLean promised her clients they would not be connected to the effort until after the election.
The deal MacLean was seeking would have had her paying $30,000 in fines and agreeing she violated campaign contribution laws. That's a victory in a world where $30,000 is a bargain to snag a seat in the state Senate. It's like the meaningless fines to NFL multi-millionaires for being late to practice or even vicious hits.
McKenna should go after MacLean aggressively. A clear message must be sent making it clear circumventing the law and these dirty political shenanigans won't be tolerated in Washington.